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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
23
4.4 out of 5 stars
Outcast
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VINE VOICEon 25 May 2007
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.
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on 1 May 2017
A well written book for older children that an adult can enjoy too - for me a better book than Eagle of the Ninth which was one of my favourites - it brings the Roman era to life
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on 7 April 2013
Maybe not one of Rosemary Sutcliffe's very best books but very enjoyable and I will happily read anything by her.
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on 15 October 2015
I liked it
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on 10 October 2017
Excellent nook, one of her best!
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on 10 April 2006
I had (somewhat naively, I admit) dismissed history as boring after my teachers contrived to bury all the great stories under mounds of pointless busywork and aimless projects. Rosemary Sutcliff's novels have changed all that, and left me with lots of enthusiasm for new learning. Sutcliff worked hard to make her novels as historically accurate as possible, and she brings the ancient world to life for me. 'Outcast' is one of the saddest and harshest of her novels set in Roman England - it includes some very brutal scenes, eg of galley slaves being beaten and dying at the oar, and being thrown overboard. Darker than the Eagle of the Ninth series, I think. I wouldn't be happy for my children to read it until they were around 11 or over, but this book makes a great read for adults too; I'd rate it up there with I, Claudius (less scholarly and less dry) and way, way above Lindsay Davis's stuff.
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on 11 April 2011
I rate Rosemary Sutcliff's novels very highly, and sometimes I think Outcast is the best of the lot. Structurally, it's very tight, and I'm not sure if she ever surpassed the series of vivid glimpses into, first, a Celtic tribe, then a wealthy Roman family in Rome itself, then the rowing deck of the Alcestis of the Rhenus fleet, and finally an engineer's life on the outposts of empire. It's striking how the utter brutality and despair among the galley-slaves are conveyed, and given a tragic edge, all without recourse to anything that could make the book unsuitable for young readers. I used it with a 14-year-old remedial reader and he found it thrilling and totally absorbing, except that for him it lost momentum and interest from the point where Beric has recovered his health and strength in the house of Justinius (with a surprising amount of the book still to go).
I believe the psychological truth of the last section is actually one of Outcast's greatest strengths, but perhaps all that shows is that while its restraint makes it particularly suitable for children able to engage with it, it isn't a "children's book" in the sense of being in any way limited. Like all Rosemary Sutcliffe's best stories, it has most to give to a maturer understanding.
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on 4 March 2017
I love this book. I read it as a teenager and have since re-read it many times. Beric was a baby rescued from a Roman shipwreck, taken in by a tribe. When the tribe experience some misfortunes Beric's presence is blamed for the bad luck and he is sent away to fend for himself at the age of 15. He goes through a lot: he is taken in by strangers who kidnap him and sell him as a slave. As a slave he experiences love for the first time and ends up in a fight when he makes a mistake whilst feeling homesick. After escaping he is in the wrong place at the wrong time and is arrested for something he didn't do. He is sent to be a galley slave and suffers untold misery and loss until being thrown over the side and left for dead. He washes up on a beach and from there begins his new life. This book shows the true hardships of a boy trying to survive in a frightening world with no help or support. He doesn't know who he can trust and he is treated as if he is less than human. This boy fights through everything and still survives, although his trust in humanity is destroyed and he has trouble rebuilding his life and forming attachments. This book highlights the mark which abuse has on an individual and how there can still be hope despite a difficult past. This book also shows the bad sides of the time, superstition, slavery, abuse.
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on 3 August 2013
(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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on 22 August 2012
Beric is a child of Roman parents who is shipwrecked on the British coast and adopted by native parents. When the tribe drives him out, he is sold into slavery in Rome with little hope of ever returning to Britain again. Outcast is a children's book but grim and uncompromising in its depiction of the inhumane treatment of slaves during Roman times. The chapters where Beric serves aboard a Roman galley are particularly harrowing. I did not find this book to be particularly enjoyable - Beric's continuing suffering becomes exhausting. But if like me you are a big fan of Ms Sutcliff's work, it is still worth reading for the way she captures the era so vividly.
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