Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Eagle in the Sand

Book Review
Simon Scarrow, The Eagle in the Sand (Headline 2006)

This is the seventh book written by Simon Scarrow in the Eagles series. The other books are Under the Eagle, The Eagle’s Conquest, When the Eagle Hunts, The Eagle and the Wolves, The Eagle’s Prey and The Eagle’s Prophecy. Each book details a campaign of Rome in the first century as she seeks to conquer and bring to heel, much of the known world at that time. The two main characters are Macro, a veteran legionnaire and Cato, an aristocrat who was exiled to become a legionaire. The various campaigns were in Europe and Britain. The Eagle in the Sand was the first one set outside Europe in Judaea, in the present day Middle East.

The author, Simon Scarrow is a lecturer at the City College in Norwich. In his free time, he used to organize Roman History programs for students in taking them to the ruins and museums. It was his extensive knowledge of the Roman army life and of the various campaigns that makes reading his novels so interesting.

The Roman army was the most disciplined and well trained fighting force of that era making Rome the sole superpower. The infantry or legionaries were the backbone of the army. With their heavy body armour and the strategic teamwork in forming a modified phalanx with their shields and gladius (short sword), it was a formidable killing machine. Scarrow researched his various novels well; making the campaigns seems like CNN reports. His writing is similar to Conn Iggulden’s Emperor series which narrated the life of Julius Caesar; The Gates of Rome, The Death of Kings and The God of War.

In this novel, Macro and Cato, both centurions now, were sent to Judaea to spy out whether the governor of Syria was planning a military coup. How they became unwilling agents of Rome’s secret service was told in the previous novels. In Judaea they became involved in the great revolt of the Jewish people in AD 66. With a small contingent of soldiers, they were able to defeat the revolt of the peasants and their ally, the Parthians, who also had design on this part of the world.

Scarrow did not give too much details of Roman army life in this novel but instead spend more time describing the land of Judaea and Nabataea especially its capital Petra. Petra is in modern day Jordan. This is still an interesting read but the story telling is often distracted by information about the Jewish people. Somehow it lacks the continuity of the other novels. This series is comparable to the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell (Napoleonic wars in Spain, Portugal and France).



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