Rosemary Sutcliff’s THE LANTERN BEARERS

The third volume in Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman Britain Trilogy, THE LANTERN BEARERS is set roughly 300 years after her first, THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH in around 427 AD. 18-year-old Aquila is just starting out on life, and has spent a year as a commander of the Rhenus Horse Auxiliary Cavalry. What happens in the first few pages of this novel changes him for life, from an open-minded pleasant young man to someone who is not well-liked.

But Ms. Sutcliff has done such a wonderful job in showing us Aquila’s life both before and after, that even though he is not a likable character, one cannot help rooting for him.

By and by he acquires a wife and a son, but nothing can take away the awfulness of what happened to him. Eventually, however, he finds a certain kind of peace, and the last image of the book is both consoling and realistic. This book won the Carnegie Medal in 1959. More than just a fictional account of history, this book engages the reader at a deep level, forcing us to feel the agony of the difficult choices Aquila has to make. Five stars.

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