Best 1954 Adventures (3)

By: Joshua Glenn
September 5, 2019

One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1954 adventure novels.

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Rosemary Sutcliff’s YA Eagle of the Ninth historical adventure The Eagle of the Ninth.

The story is set in Roman Britain in the early 2nd century AD. Some years earlier, the Ninth Legion of the Roman Army had marched into northern Britain, bearing a bronze eagle as their standard; they were never seen again. (Sutcliff was inspired to write the story by the disappearance of the Ninth Legion from the historical record following an expedition north to deal with Caledonian tribes in 117.) The son of the Ninth Legion’s commander, Marcus Aquila, who’s grown up to be a soldier, is discharged from the military after being wounded in battle. While recuperating, he forms friendships with Esca, a young Briton whom Marcus purchased as a manservant-slave, an orphaned wolf cub, and Cottia, a British girl being raised as a Roman. Marcus dreams of discovering the truth about the disappearance of the Ninth Legion, and restoring his father’s honor; finally, accompanied by Esca, he disguises himself as a Greek oculist and travels beyond Hadrian’s Wall into Caledonian territory. There, he learns that the titular eagle of the ninth has become a symbol of Roman defeat among the restive tribes along the border. Can he retrieve it? Sutcliff’s writing is gorgeous, the action is thrilling, and we come to care deeply about Marcus and his friends.

Fun facts: The Eagle of the Ninth is the first in a sequence of novels tracing the history of a family, of the Roman Empire and then of Britain; these include — in series order — The Silver Branch (1957), The Lantern Bearers (1959), and Sword at Sunset (1963). A 2011 movie adaptation starred Channing Tatum as Marcus Aquila and Jamie Bell as Esca.

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JOSH GLENN’S *BEST ADVENTURES* LISTS: BEST 250 ADVENTURES OF THE 20TH CENTURY | 100 BEST OUGHTS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST RADIUM AGE (PROTO-)SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TEENS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TWENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST THIRTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST GOLDEN AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FORTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FIFTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SIXTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST NEW WAVE SCI FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SEVENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST EIGHTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST DIAMOND AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST NINETIES ADVENTURES (in progress) | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | NOTES ON 21st-CENTURY ADVENTURES.

Categories

Adventure, Lit Lists

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