This book is part of the Dolphin Ring Series, the same series that starts off with “The Eagle of the Ninth”, which the recently released movie, “The Eagle” was based on. I don't know if the movie is any good, as I have yet to see it. But I do know that Ms. Sutcliff's books have been flying off my library's shelves. I haven't been able to snag a single one. My boss, who enjoyed reading her books back when he was a pup, felt sorry for me and left me this book on my desk the other day with a post-it note saying, “Enjoy!” So with all of the hype for the movie, plus Ancient Rome being one of my favorite subjects, I was anxious to crack it open.
First of all, the research she did for this book, and I'm sure the others as well, was amazing. She really went above and beyond to get all of the details (scenery, names, food, clothes, etc...) just right, and I really appreciated that. She even has an author's note prefacing the text stating she was reluctant to publish this book because there had yet to be any evidence of Roman occupation found matching the area (environs of Edinburgh) and the date (343 AD). She had the same misgivings for the first book in the series, but published anyways, and 25 years later they were digging up remains of the Second Legion all over where it was set (Exeter).
And as for the plot, it really moved along. She could definitely spin a good yarn, and I could see this book being really popular with younger readers.
But there was one area where I thought she was lacking: character development. And for me, that's pretty much the most important aspect of a novel. You could write a book where all the main character does is sit on the couch and drink beer all day, but if I feel like I have been made privy to his innermost thoughts, desires, regrets, etc... I will come away feeling like the book was worthwhile.
Now, as this is categorized as a young adult book, I was hesitant to say anything negative about it. But then I remembered that the Harry Potter series, as well as Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, were geared towards a younger audience, and I couldn't get enough of those. And why? Fascinating characters who I will always remember.