No-one knows what really happened to the Ninth Legion, the Hispana. All that is known is that it marched north into what is now Scotland to deal with the Painted People, and disappeared into the mists. A battered eagle, shorn of is wings is in the museum at Reading, having been found during the excavations of Silchester, formerly known as Calleva Atrebatum.

Out of these two facts, Rosemary Sutcliff has written a wonderfully resonant story about hard choices, bravery and the ways in which that bravery is rewarded. Or not. Along the way, she creates a protagonist who is a real hero, but does not see himself that way.

Marcus Flavius Aquila has only fragmentary memories of a father whom he adored. He lost that father at the age of 8, when, in 117 CE, the father marched north with the Ninth Legion and was never heard of again. Marcus wants to know what happened to his father. And out of that longing, Ms. Sutcliff spins a thread.

THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH is an impressively researched novel with lots of period detail to draw you into the world of the Roman Empire of circa 127 CE. But Ms Sutcliff is also a fabulous stylist who uses adjectives so brilliantly, you are glad she didn’t edit them out as we are so often told to do. Five stars.