THE SILVER BRANCH is set about 200 years after THE EAGLE. Marcus Flavius Aquila’s namesake grandson (called Flavius rather than Marcus) and his cousin Justin come across something that points to treason in the Emperor’s general staff. Young and naive, they immediately find a way of informing the emperor.
In what follows the cousins find themselves caught up in the messy politics of divided loyalties as the people who live in Britain put up a fierce resistance against the Saxon invaders.
If one could fault Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing craft, it would be to say that her characters are not very emotional, and that large things happen via small reactions. Which, of course, is very British. Or at least the way the British were famously so in the 19th and 20th centuries. But were the Romans like that? Or the Painted People? I somehow doubt it. While there is no doubt that some people are unemotional, I would say that the majority express their emotions quite vividly. And this is something that Ms. Sutcliff just fails to capture.
In THE SILVER BRANCH, which centers around the friendship of two young men, the emotions are muted as before. But in this context that seems to work. I think it worked less well between Marcus and his fiancee Cottia in THE EAGLE and between Aquila and his wife Ness in THE LANTERN BEARERS. I thought those scenes between a man and a woman whose lives are so closely bound together should have and could have been a whole lot more passionate. Especially as the women were both strong-willed and opinionated. Four stars.