Series: The Dolphin Ring Cycle #2
Read: 22nd - 23rd September 2011
Status: Borrowed but buying
Reason I Read It: I really liked The Eagle of the Ninth and am now determined to read all of Rosemary Sutcliff's books.
Synopsis: Violence and unrest are sweeping through Roman Britain. Justin and Flavius find themselves caught up in the middle of it all when they discover a plot to overthrow the Emperor. In fear for their lives they gather together a tattered band of men and lead them into the thick of battle, to defend the honour of Rome. But will they be in time to save the Emperor... (from Goodreads)
First line: "On a blustery autumn day a galley was nosing up the wide loop of a British river that widened into the harbour of Rutupiae."
Review: Rosemary Sutcliff is one of my favourite 'new' authors of the year. The Eagle of the Ninth was fantastic, Outcast was good if depressing until about 1/5 from the end, and I definitely want to read all of her books even though this will no doubt involve tracking a few down second hand. The Silver Branch sits somewhere between those two in terms of how much I like it (I think it's going to take a lot to knock The Eagle of the Ninth off its top spot in my estimation) and is the book I knew least about as I started reading, both plot- and history-wise.
Because I thought I knew something about Roman Britain. And I did, it's just that my education always focused on Julius Caesar, Claudius and Boudicca and then fastforwarded 350 years to the Romans leaving us to panic over a lack of luxuries and the fear of invasion. So, because I never bothered to do any research of my own, I never knew someone called Carausius set himself up as Emperor of Britain and northern Gaul in 286 AD (thank you, Wikipedia) or that he would be the Emperor featured in The Silver Branch. I genuinely thought Justin and Flavius would be dashing off to Rome and that there'd be a pellmell dash over Europe in a similar style to Marcus and Esca's journey to Scotland in The Eagle of the Ninth. That the book is set entirely in Britain and that through this I learned a bit of history (and now want to read more on the time period) is an unexpected bonus of reading the book.
I also hadn't realised that both Justin and Flavius are descendants of Marcus, and that the Eagle from the first book would play a part in this one. Or that the book would turn into an espionage drama halfway through, with lots of sneaking around and secret paths above the town - I love stuff like that. Add in a couple of courageous last stands and a fantastic closing battle and the book was full of things I enjoy that I hadn't expected to find. Sutcliff's prose is always beautiful, her plot raced along even during 'quiet' moments and I felt like I learned something. I am going to have to read the rest of this series.