Friday, April 15, 2016

When the Eagle Hunts

When the Eagle Hunts
© 2002 Simon Scarrow
274 pages

The Emperor Claudius is determined to make good the conquest of Britain, but his supply fleet sleeps with the fishes. The only Romans to survive a wintry crossing of the (English) channel are one officer, one woman, and two small children. Drowning might have been a better fate for them, however, as on shore they fall into the hands of an incredibly gruesome and violent sect of Druids. Used as objects of ransom, the royal family is threatened with death-by-bonfire if Rome doesn’t meet the druidic demands...demands which might compromise the whole expand-the-Empire dream.  Enter the grizzled Centurion Macro and his peach-fuzz faced second, Cato,  who have in the past proven quick enough on their feet to infiltrate barbarians and walk out alive.

When the Eagle Hunts is third in Scarrow’s Roman historical fiction, and features cloak-and-gladus operations more than larger battles.  Not that Hunts is without legion-wide brawls, for the first half of the book features the Second Legion patrolling the border and being brutally harried by the Durotriges.  Scarrow uses this to create a sense of dread about the Black Moon Druids, who expect some deity to arrive and consume the world, beginning with their enemies. The druids wage savage war against anyone who draws close to Rome, and if they spare women and children from being killed in battle, it is only so the captives can be tortuously executed at leisure. Scarrow still provides comic moments, here principally in the Romans' interaction with their Iceni guide, but Hunts is darker than the previous novels in the series. Of great interest is the role played by a red-haired Iceni named Boudica, who both Macro and Cato have a certain fascination for. She moves like a tiger, a fount of hidden and fierce strength, and she most definitely will feature in this series again, I'm sure.  The druidic horror show also has some interest given that Scarrow penned his afterword on fanaticism and violence  on September 12th, 2001.  Hunts is also a series milestone, a coming-of-age for  young Cato, who must attempt a rescue on his own after Macro is incapacitated.

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