Simon Scarrow was one of those authors I'd been aware of for a while but had never got around to reading. I knew he wrote historical novels featuring Roman centurions, and that was about it. Last week I was looking for something new to read and I spotted Scarrow's novel When the Eagle Hunts in the fiction/literature section at Barnes and Noble and I decided it was time to give Scarrow a try. Hunts isn't the first of Scarrow's books featuring Centurion Lucius Cornelius Macro and his Optio, Quintus Lucinius Cato but I liked the plot description on the back so I went with that one.
The book has one of the most exciting opening chapters I've read in recent memory. It's the winter of A.D. 44, and a ship carrying supplies to the Roman troops in occupied Britain gets caught in a storm of biblical proportions. On board are the wife and two children of Roman General Plautius. The ship ends up running before the storm and eventually breaks up on the rocky shore of the British coast. This is so well described that I was exhausted by the time the ship wrecked. Anyway, the unfortunate wife and kids end up as prisoners of the Druids who send word to Plautius that unless he releases some of their comrades the Romans are holding, Plautius's family will be burned alive.
The first half of the book follows Macro and Cato and the Roman troops on an incursion into enemy territory that goes horribly tragically wrong. The outnumbered Romans have to try and make their way back to camp, harried at every step by the Briton's. I should point out that the well armed and well trained Roman's do far more damage than they take, slaughtering hundreds of Britons with their superior weapons and tactics. If you've ever wondered how Roman shield walls compare to Norse ones, this is the book for you. I learned much about the use of the Roman short sword, let me tell you. Fascinating stuff and told in a way that never gets stuffy or boring.
The second half of the book features a desperate rescue attempt by Macro and Cato, along with a Briton woman with whom Macro has much history and a former druid who acts as guide into the dark forests where the druids dwell and hold sacrifices.
I was very impressed, not only with Scarrow's narrative drive, which is considerable, and his knowledge of Roman history and military tactics, but also with his descriptive skills. I could almost feel the cold and see the glint of sun on snow. The Guy can write. I'll definitely be reading more of Scarrow's books.
This is the 100th post for 2010 here at Singular Points. I had begun to wonder if I would break 100 this year as I got off to something of a slow start blogging early on. I seem to have gotten my second wind here in the last quarter of the year. Blame it on a lot of good and interesting books.