Monday, 26 September 2016

Review: 'Frontier Wolf' by Rosemary Sutcliff

Whoever put the book up on Goodreads certainly hadn't read it, or understand the magic of Rosemary Sutcliff's writing and her way of writing characters that reach from the past to the reader's present. She does this by giving them problems we might have. Here it is having to make again a decision which once cost Alexios a great deal of pain and disgrace.

'Frontier Wolf' deals with Roman Britain under the young Emperor Constans. Alexios has an influential uncle who is Dux of Britain and this uncle uses his influence to smooth Alexios's path through the Legions. Stationed in what we know of as Germany where the tribes are restless there is an attack on Alexios's fort and the commander is killed. Second in command Alexios, and he really is too young and inexperienced to hold the post, decides to abandon the fort, against advice. He has been tricked into believing that his gallopers - the messengers - did not reach help at the other forts. He loses half his men and is only saved from ultimate disgrace by his uncle. But his punishment is to be made commander of the Frontier Wolves who guard the wild British frontier between Hadrian's Wall and what was the Antonine Wall. The men of the Wolves are called the scum and scrapings of the Empire, sent into the Wolves because they are troublesome in their Legions or are hard core prisoners sent there to be out of the way.

Alexios's command takes place just before and during the year known for the 'Great Conspiracy' when the 'Barbarian' raiders launched a coordinated attack on Roman Britain. He has no easy task but he is no fool, and with some help from his fellow officers, who are the first to accept him, he does command the men. When the attack comes, Alexios has to decide again whether to stay or leave.

One of the joys of Rosemary Sutcliff's Roman novels is that she writes about people, not a bunch of soldiers fighting. They are not 'war' stories. That is just one aspect of her many layered plots and her complex characters delight in their learning and growing, friendships and problems, living as unwelcomed strangers in a land not their own. She presents both sides as the tribes are well represented and in this novel, Alexios becomes friends with the new Tribal leader, a young man in a position similar to his own. Her research is excellent and her writing skills such that the reader is pulled straight into Roman Britain and can almost smell, touch and taste this world not their own.

For those who love lyrical writing, excellent research and a great historical story then Rosemary Sutcliff is a must. 'Frontier Wolf' is one of the Roman Legion stories which start with 'Eagle of the Ninth' and are all unforgettable, but her many other novels are as good. Don't miss them.

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