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on 12 August 2000
This story, which hints at the beginning of the Arthur myth, combines historical detail with a surprisingly complex and at times bleak portrait of a "hero" damaged by all that he has had to live through. The pace is fast, with the tale covering about 30 years in total. The author does not skirt around the implications to one person of living in a period of history marked by huge upheaval and conjures up life, love, death, war and betrayal on the brink of the Dark Ages so vividly that you can almost smell the woodsmoke. A fascinating, moving and challenging book.
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on 4 March 2011
The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff was first published in 1959, and in a remarkable testament to its appeal, it is still in print. It should also be noted that this is the novel that won the author the Carnegie Medal, a prestigious award for outstanding children's books. It's the third part of the loosely linked Roman Britain trilogy that began with The Eagle of The Ninth and continued with The Silver Branch. Readers are probably well aware that the first novel has been dramatized into a movie, The Eagle, which is currently opening and showing in cinemas all over the world.

Other reviewers have dealt with the storyline and Aquila, the tortured main character, so I won't go into an explanation of the plot.

The Eagle of the Ninth was one of the main influences in my choosing to write about Rome and its legions. I have read it many times, and although I cannot say why, the same cannot be said of the second two books. I recently read The Silver Branch for the second time specifically to review it, and while I enjoyed it greatly, I didn't think that it quite matched the first book in calibre. I expected that also to be the case with The Lantern Bearers. How wrong could I have been?

The Eagle of the Ninth fuelled my boyish imagination with pictures of stealing back an eagle standard from wild Scottish tribes, and to this day, I remember and enjoy and honour it for that. I had few childhood memories of The Lantern Bearers, however. Rereading it over the last few days was akin to reading it for the first time. To my surprise and joy, it gripped me not just with the richness of its prose, but also with the depth and accuracy of its description of human emotions and relationships. I was moved to tears on numerous occasions, and I now regard this finely crafted novel to be every bit as good as The Eagle of the Ninth. If anything, it's aimed at an older audience than the first two parts of the trilogy. In my opinion - and I write this as a man rather than a boy - it is a better book than either of the others. The Lantern Bearers stands four square with any piece of adult historical fiction that I have ever read. Indeed, it's superior to most of them.

Ben Kane, author of The Forgotten Legion.
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VINE VOICEon 20 December 2007
This is not just for children, however, since Sutcliff never patronises her readership. It is an epic story, covering its hero's life from an idealistic young Roman officer, to a mature veteran, contemplating his adult son's future in post-Roman Britain.

As usual with Sutcliff's 'outsider' heroes, Aquila does not have an easy time! Sutcliff's heroes do not win glorious victories; instead they show a deeper heroism in what they endure, and they mature under adversity.
After the first few chapters, Aquila has lost everything - having deserted his legion in order to protect his family and home, within days his family is destroyed, leaving him without honour, and living first to rescue his sister (who has been carried off), and then for revenge. When even this is taken from him, he must decide what to do with his life...

Sutcliff is really able to capture the values and attitudes of her characters; there is never the jarring moment, as happens often in historical novels, where anachronistic attitudes intrude. Instead she takes us into the dark, and often savage world they inhabit. Don't expect easy answers then: this is a stirring, and exciting tale, but problems do not disappear, and real decisions have to be made. Aquila's relationships are dealt with in a mature manner - by this I do *not* intend code for explicit sexual references (there are none), but that there is no 'happy-ever-after' romance either.

Less bleak than some of Sutcliff's stories - Aquila does, in the end, find a measure of peace - the dark tone may mean that it is unsuitable for younger children.

However it's inspired portrayal of a society in transition, as the Roman troops depart from Britain, leaving the Romano-British inhabitants struggling to retain Roman values in the face of Saxon invasion, is not to be missed.

(Look out for a 'cameo' appearance of Arthur - Rosemary Sutcliff was one of the first authors to portray him, not as the courtly king of French romances, but as a plausible historical figure.

As is said to Aquila by one of his sword comrades: "You and I they will forget utterly, though they live and die in our debt. Ambrosius they may remember a little; but HE - he is the king they make songs about!")

n.b. This is the third (*not* the first) book of the series. However, it is not necessary to read them in order, as they stand alone. Each book is about a different character at a different time, linked by the dolphin insignia they share.
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The Roman Britain trilogy of novels by Rosemary Sutcliff

THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH 1954
THE SILVER BRANCH 1957
THE LANTERN BEARERS 1959

There can be very few school boys of the 1950's who had not read and enjoyed the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff. For myself, The Eagle of the Ninth was probably my first introduction to the historical novel and the book that hooked me onto the genre for life.

The release of the new film `The Eagle' has triggered a new world wide interest in Rosemary Sutcliff's Roman books with new editions in the bookshops and a belated re-release of the BBC Radio drama on CD. The big surprise is probably that the film industry has not previously used these novels as the basis for a movie. At the time of writing I have purchased the film but have not viewed it, I did however, decide to re-visit the books and was surprised to find that it was almost twenty years since I last read them. They were still as enjoyable as I remembered.

THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH follows the adventures of a young Roman soldier who is determined to discover the truth about the disappearance of his father, the legion eagle standard and the 4000 soldiers of the Ninth Legion who marched into Ultima Thule (present day Scotland or Alba) never to be seen of heard of again.
My personal favourite of the three Roman Britain novels, the story is well crafted, exciting and the historical background and locations realistic and generally accurate.

THE SILVER BRANCH skips forward to the year AD 286. The Roman Empire was under threat. Over the next few years Roman Britain would indulge in a spectacular rebellion led by the extraordinary Carausius who became the first British emperor in history. Carausius was determined to restore Rome - in Britain, and enlists two young Legionary Officers, Flavius and Justin, as secret agents.

THE LANTERN BEARERS move further forward in time to the final exit of the Roman armies from Britain which is in turmoil as the Romano-Celtic tribes battle for supremacy and against the threat of Saxon invasion. The central character is a British born Roman officer who has to decide if his loyalties are with far away Rome or the land of his birth.

Ms. Sutcliff's Arthurian novel SWORD AT SUNSET is a continuation of the post-Roman saga although not generally grouped with the other three.

If you have not yet sampled Ms Sutcliff's works do not be put off by the fact that most are catalogued as juvenile or teenage reading, the writing style is of the quality that transcends age groups and is equally gripping for youngsters and adults alike' in fact most public libraries now shelve her works in both adult and children's sections.Strangely, although the style does not vary considerably The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset were originally published as adult reading.
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on 16 May 2010
The third, and maybe the best, of the Aquila family series set in Roman Britain. The Romans are almost a memory in a military sense. The legions are gone, and auxilliary troops are left. Vortigern is High King and has invited the Saxon wolf over the threshold to help defend against the Picts and northern raiders, and they demand a high price. Aquila has followed the family military trend and is a Decurion of Horse stationed at Rutupiae. His blind father Flavian is the custodian of the family farm. Aquila has a sister Flavia and they are very close in age and affection.
Then life falls apart, and Aquila is forced into a journey which leaves him hardened,embittered and searching for a place to be and a cause to fight and believe in. This story does not patronise young people and crosses the age barrier. We follow Aquila into his late thirties, the loyalties and relationships he forges in place of the old ones. We live the adventures he survives and the battles he fights. With Aquila we see the development of the boy and young man who may have been King Arthur - Artos Aurealanus. Superb and moving story telling.
The journey of Aquila continues in Sword at Sunset, which focuses on Artos.
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on 15 July 2011
As the last legions are withdrawn and the darkness of barbarism falls over Roman-Celtic Britain a brave band of warriors fight to be the lantern bearers of civilisation, and a young soldier struggles to survive his own psychic wounds.

Almost unbearably harrowing at the start and emotionally devastating by the end, this novel is even better than 'The Eagle of the Ninth' but immeasurably darker and sadder.

Any scene Sutcliff writes, she sees it and makes you see it. 'The wind caught the crest of the blaze and bent it over in a wave; and Aquila's shadow streamed out from him across the parapet and into the night like a ragged cloak.' 'The hut was full of sunlight that slanted in through the doorway and quivered like golden water on the lime-washed wall beside him.' 'There was a swelling of thunder in his ears, and the wild, high song of the hunting-horn as the great arrow-head of wild riders hurtled down upon the battle. At the shining point of the arrow-head, Artos swept by, his great white horse turned for a flashing moment to silver by the burst of sunlight that came scudding down the valley to meet him, the silver mane streaming over his bridle arm, and the sods flying like birds from the great round hooves.'

A disproportionate number of the best books in English over the past century have been ostensibly written for children rather than adults. It isn't surprising: there's more pressure to tell a tale well rather than be self-indulgent, and more license to be interesting rather than dreary. Still it's somewhat mysterious how a book as good and mature in theme as this comes to be classed as one thing rather than the other. I suppose it's something to be celebrated, as children deserve the best, and it will mean the book is read. Anyway, Rosemary Sutcliff was simply one of our great writers.
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on 14 December 2009
I have to say, this is probably one of my favourite books. Rosemary Sutcliff is such a vivid, visceral writer, faithful to her subject matter and largely to its historical context. This is the third in a trilogy on the Roman occupation of Britain. The first, The Eagle of the Ninth, takes place in the early days of Roman rule when Britain was an obscure, frightening fringe of empire. This last installment sees the vestiges of Roman rule falling away, the last remaining legion recalled to defend Rome itself from attack, leaving the romanized natives to fend for themselves against new invaders from the north. It is strange to think that this was written as a childrens book - it won a Carnegie medal in the late 1950's. I think most kids would find this a real challenge these days - did young people forty or fifty years ago have a better sense of national history, mythologies and the classics? Almost certainly, though that is not intended as a criticism necessarily. Were they better readers and comprehenders? Possibly, thought with the noise of modern life with its varied media, that is perhaps an unfair comparison. The truth is, Sutcliff was an extraordinarily gifted writer capable of sustaining an emotionally complex and, finally, deeply moving storyline against a historical backdrop. The Lantern Bearers, in particular, is one of those books to read, savour, and read again.
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on 7 February 2002
I'm a bit old to be really be reading this book, but I still really enjoyed it. Apart from the amazingly life-like characters there is some historic truth in Sutcliffs tales and it does show what people may have felt when taken over by an entirely foriegn group of people. It shows a society still steeped in the idea of honour and duty that surpasses any personnal problems, and in particular one mans struggle not only against an invading people but also against the person he has become. It sounds very deep and meaningful, but is infact very easy to read and definately worth reading by everyone who likes stories of unusual heros and hand to hand combat. A book children will always love.
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on 1 January 2015
The book aimed for a older audience than the prior two, focuses on the roman desertion of Britain all the way to the beginning of the legend of King Arthur some 30 years in total. The book is fast paced and captivating easily the best in the series in my opinion it leaves you mesmerized throughout and allows you to really bond with the characters. However the book is also the most darkest in the series. The main character in this book is Aquila, by far the darkest, brooding, and least nice of Sutcliff's heroes. Well worth the read.
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on 5 June 2014
I first read this when I was at secondary school as I was learning Latin and wanted to know more about roman life. I recently decided to read it again as a granny before recommending it to my grand children. It is still a great story and I have now read the whole series of Roman stories. I am looking forward to renewing my experience of all the other books Rosemary Sutcliff wrote.
I am certain anyone who likes historical novels will enjoy these books.
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