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Customer Review

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beric comes home...., 3 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Outcast (Paperback)
(Contains some spoilers btw!) You know, with Rosemary Sutcliff, that you won't be in line for anything facile or trite. Even so, many people seem to think this is one of her heaviest, bleakest books. I have come to the end of it after two days of reading whenever I got the opportunity, and can concur that it does have very harsh moments indeed! But she writes so wonderfully: the descriptions of sea and storms makes them spring from the page, well observed, fresh and raw. The characters are deeply drawn, and ring psychologically true, even the secondary characters have quirks and dashes of detail. What works reading these books as an adult is that Mrs Sutcliff doesn't simply prescribe answers: her characters have to fight, often appalling odds, to find their way in a world that doesn't actually function according to any hard and fast rules and this story is no different. Beric's adventures, at times, make very uncomfortable reading indeed, but I disagree with another reviewer who said he was perhaps happiest in the first chapter and it's all down-hill from there. At the end, he is still young-ish, he has gained an adopted father, the affections of a dog and puppy, and considers setting out on a career in the legions. Home, he concludes in an aside, can be made and can be returned to. Further, he sends a message back to his old foster mother, restrained and dignified, saying he is well so that she no longer worries about him, meaning that though he has taken an absolute battering he is holding and can imagine better days to come. Emotionally this is incredibly alive and I found it very moving. How does Beric get to this point- well, read the book and find out. Suffice to say a good many things happen! In many ways, though this is not an unoriginal story, its outstanding qualities are the beautiful prose and the emotional power of the narrative. Once I started I found myself drawn in, and found even the 'worst' bits not only bearable but oddly, and profoundly beautiful.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Aug 2015 21:33:05 BDT
Plover S says:
agree all the way. I was surprised to find another reviewer marking this book down for its harsh and dark aspects, then suggesting The Lantern Bearers is preferable in that regard! I admire both books very much, but I really don't think as far as darkness goes there's much to choose.
"Emotionally alive .. and very moving" - yes, just so!

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jun 2016 15:54:31 BDT
Alexa says:
You appear to both have musunderstood me. Whilst I feel the story is sufficiently bleak to give a warning about it for younger readers, I did not mark it down for that. As you noted, I love "The Lantern Bearers", whilst finding Aquila's thoughts at the informer's grave heartbreaking even now.

I marked it down because it is the only one of Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novels in which I have encountered a major historical inaccuracy. Her vivid description of being a galley slave are an accurate portrayal of life on a RENAISSANCE ERA war galley (and subsequently). But they are not true of Roman galleys. Technically, they functioned differently; it was a skilled job and it was done by free men. It was a hard life certainly, but the analogy is with being an ordinary seaman in any pre-modern navy.

There is only one instance in history of galleys being rowed by slaves; what happened there was that when a rebellious city was under siege, its inhabitants negotiated a surrender, with the terms that instead of being enslaved, they would serve in the galleys of the attacking force for 10 years.Since the victorious general had taken serious losses in the battle, he accepted.

If you are interested enough see The Age of the Galley: Mediterranean Oared Vessels Since Pre-classical Times (Conway's History of the Ship) for a very detailed explanation of what I am describing!
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