The Eagle: Under the Eagle by Simon Scarrow – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

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Bane of Kings reviews the first book in the Eagle series, an historical fiction epic entitled Under the Eagle - written by Simon Scarrow, published by Headline.

“A gritty, realistic, page-turning experience that will lead the reader wanting more.” ~The Founding Fields

This is the first historical fiction book that I’ve read in a long time (excluding Bernard Cromwell’s Sharpe series), and I really enjoyed it, and if I’m being honest it’s not really the first time that I attempted to read it, as I picked it up and begun reading it a few months ago, only to put aside for some new releases that had come my way in the post.

I read the first half of the novel. I liked it, I really did – I just never got around to returning to it. However, for a random reason, I seem to now be wanting to read every historical fiction novel out there on the market today. I’m a huge fan of the Roman period, so I figured, where better to start my historical fiction-reading crusade with Under the Eagle, a novel which I already had?

As it turned out, it was the perfect place to start.

It is 42 AD, and Quintus Licinius Cato has just arrived in Germany as a new recruit to the Second Legion, the toughest in the Roman army. If adjusting to the rigours of military life isn’t difficult enough for the bookish young man, he also has to contend with the disgust of his colleagues when, because of his imperial connections, he is appointed a rank above them.

As second-in-command to Macro, the fearless, battle-scarred centurion who leads them, Cato will have more to prove than most in the adventures that lie ahead. Then the men discover that the army’s next campaign will take them to a land of unparalleled barbarity – Britain.

After the long march west, Cato and Macro undertake a special mission that will thrust them headlong into a conspiracy that threatens to topple the Emperor himself…

I wasn’t expecting Under the Eagle to be as good as it was. The main characters, Cato and Macro, come from entirely different backgrounds and are well developed throughout the novel, and they quickly become memorable and Scarrow makes you want to read more. Cato and Marco are quite clearly different characters, and are, like everybody in the novel, flawed and imperfect. Under the Eagle has captured the gritty realism of life in the Roman Army, and as far as I noticed (I’m no expert historian myself), there were no glaringly obvious historical innacuracies that I found within the pages of Under the Eagle, such as Romans using forks, which apparently was seen in 2011′s Roman film entitled The Eagle, which I wanted to see, but never got around to doing so.

Another notable character in this novel is Vespasian, one of the high ranking figures of the second legion, and he is really brought to life in Under the Eagle. For those familiar with Warhammer 40k (as most readers of The Founding fields will be), will no doubt recgonise Vespasian being one of the named characters in Graham McNeill’s Fulgrim, and as you read Under the Eagle, you’ll start to see more and more where McNeill drew his inspiration for character names from, but don’t let that deter you from reading Under the Eagle, or indeed – Fulgrim, if you haven’t already. Both are fantastic novels, and I can offer my recommendation for them. Fulgrim is easily one of the better novels in the Horus Heresy series, I should add.

The pace of the novel is fast, action packed and with plenty of fight scenes that are well-detailed, realistic and really entertaining. Scarrow makes you want to root for Cato and Macro, and he makes you want to get behind them as they struggle through wars against the enemy barbarians.  There are a wide variety of conflicts presented in Under the Eagle, ranging from simple skirmishes to full-scale battlezones, which provide an entertaining experience, and also provides an accurate look as to how the Romans fought their battles. If you’re a fan of Roman military then, the first book in this series is one that you’ll not want to miss, especially as it’ll leave you desperate for more.

You can tell that Scarrow has done  his research for Under the Eagle. At the beginning of the novel he provides the reader with an in-depth look as to how the Roman Army (or at least, the Second Legion) works, which only adds to the whole reading experience as newcomers to Roman-era historical fiction novels won’t find themselves lost as to what the difference is between an Centurion and an Optio.

The plot is captivating, entertaining and enjoyable, as well as being a ‘gateway drug’ into more of what the sword and sandals section of historical fiction has to offer, as after reading this novel you’ll really want to read some more set in this period. I’ve even picked up the sequel to this novel, The Eagle’s Conquest, which I’m really looking forward to reading.

Verdict: 4/5

The Eagle Series by Simon Scarrow: Under the Eagle, The Eagle’s Conquest, When the Eagle Hunts, The Eagle and the Wolves, The Eagle’s Prey, The Eagle’s Prophecy, Eagle in the Sand, Centurion, The Gladiator, The Legion, Praetorian

 

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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