This is the cover of the ebook edition I've just read.
It's a hot Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. I'm with my mother, whom I normally take out to lunch, but too hot for that. She is dozing in front of the TV.
So I've been reading and finishing this Sutcliff novel I've never read before. I've read the Eagle trilogy and Sword At Sunset, which was set in the world of Eagle Of The Ninth, three days after the ending of The Lantern Bearers, but written for adults(which didn't stop the kids from reading and loving it!) I've even read The Shining Company, set long afterwards - but not this one, set in between The Silver Breanch and The Lantern Bearers.
And I loved it, every bit as much as the others. It's the story of yet another descendant of Marcus Flavius Aquila, complete with that flawed emerald dolphin ring which appears even in a novel set in the Middle Ages. At one point in the novel, the hero even mentions his ancestor, though not by name. But you know by the details it has to be Marcus.
This Aquila is Alexios, with a half-Greek mother, presumably where that Greek praenomen comes from. He has made a huge mistake while serving in Germany, moving his men from an endangered fort when it was definitely not standard procedure, and lost them to an attack. This is important because later in the book he's faced with the same decision. Because his uncle is high up in the Roman forces in Britain, he's given another command, this time of a fort in the far north, whose men are scouts, the Frontier Wolves, who wear wolfskin cloaks(from a wolf each man kills, then never again) and are laid-back in their attitudes, as they need to be, but still disciplined. Here, he develops and grows and soon comes to respect his men as they do him, which is a good thing, because some dreadful things are about to happen.
It's a fascinating era. The Roman Empire is officially Christian, but not everyone in the forces is Christian -Alexios himself is a follower of Mithras - so there are different customs among the Wolves, depending on the religion of the individual soldier. And we discover them as te novel proceeds. The local tribes also have their customs and rituals - there's a Chieftain's funeral early in the novel.
There are two different languages represented by the way the characters speak. In this book, te British tribesmen speak in the familiar Sutcliff style, "It is in my mind that...." and "Na, na..." - if you've read her other books you will know it. The Latin speakers speak in simple modern English, but not so modern that you wince at anachronistic slang. And then, when Alexios speaks to the British in their own tongue, he speaks as they so, so it's the anguage, not the people.
I'm pleased to have discovered a book set in between those I've already read. This author is, in my opinion, the definitive one on Roman Britain, so finding another one is like unearthing a hidden treasure and saying, "Hey, look what I've found!"
This isn't a children's book, I'd describe it as YA, though the characters are in their twenties.