No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

#35: Eagle's Honour -- Rosemary Sutcliff

This book, aimed at younger readers, comprises two short stories set in Roman Britain. 'A Circlet of Oak Leaves', written in 1965, is set in Isca Silurium (Caerleon) and tells a story of friendship, lies, cowardice and bravery on the northern frontier. 'Eagle's Egg' (1981) is set in Eburacum (York) and is the tale of a young standard-bearer in the Ninth Legion, in the days of Agricola.

There's a great deal of difference between the two stories. I much prefer 'A Circlet of Oak Leaves', and I think it's also a better story, though the second has a humour and warmth that's lacking from the rather melancholy 'Circlet of Oak Leaves'. I'm not sure if this is because the expected audience changed between 1965 and 1981, or whether the author herself mellowed -- I don't want to say 'declined', but 'Eagle's Egg' is not vintage Sutcliff.

Both protagonists are unusual heroes; Aracos the Thracian because his heroism's been, perforce, hidden from his peers, Quintus because he knows how to defuse a dangerous situation. And Sutcliff's evocation of Roman Britain, from the advantages of Dacian cavalry against the Picts to the craft of the mosaic-layer to the rules and regulations of the Roman Army, is vivid in both tales. But there's a sharp stained edge, a complexity of story, in 'A Circlet of Oak Leaves' that isn't apparent in the later story.

A pleasant evening's read, though.

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