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.