30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Life can be hard!,
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This review is from: Outcast (Oxford children's modern classics) (Paperback)
I must first say that I have always rated Rosemary Sutcliff *extremely* highly as an author; I loved her books when I was younger, and they are still worth re-reading now. She has a high standard of historical accuracy, not only in the material facts of Roman culture, but in the attitudes of her charaters - they are people of *their* time, not ours. Yet they never seem remote, they are alive, and real, and one cares about their fate.
Beric stands in the usual tradition of Sutcliff's protagonists, who are always crippled either physically or emotionally. Perhaps that is the strength of her novels, which take the theme of the outsider finding a place for himself in a harsh world. Sutcliff's own situation, progressively finding herself increasingly crippled by Still's disease, and isolated in an era where disability was considered something shameful, may inform her creation of her heroes (for details of this author's life, read Blue Remembered Hills: A Recollection). Certainly, she, and we, have immense sympathy for her 'outsiders'.
However, this is one of Sutcliff's grimmest tales. The sheer unremitting onslaught of adversity that she throws at Beric can seem overwhelming, and for this reason I would not recommend this story to younger children. And does it have a happy ending? Only by the standard of what has gone before - Beric finds a solution to his feelings of rootlessness, but he was still probably at his happiest in chapter 1! (Sutcliff does not deal in trite endings - no fortuitous denouements here! - her character's problems are real, not the result of misunderstandings or imaginings.)
So why only 4 stars? Probably I am being harsh, and comparing Sutcliff to her own high standard. But the tone here is uniformly bleak, and unfortunately her realism in human reactions here is not matched by her usual standards of historical accuracy: she perpetuates the myth that Roman galleys were rowed by convicts or slaves (whilst incidentally providing a very good portrayal of life (and death) aboard a 16th century Mediterranean galley - these were powered by convicts and slaves!)
So, a very good read, and not to be missed - but for Sutcliff at the peak of her powers, try The Lantern Bearers (Eagle of the Ninth) or The Mark of the Horse Lord.