The Lantern Bearers, by Rosemary Sutcliff

May 3, 2011 at 14:40 (Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Historical Fiction) (, , , , , )


Arguably Sutcliff’s best novel, and a worthy ending to her Roman Britain trilogy. It is difficult to fault any particular part of this story. Aquila, besides being Sutcliff’s own favourite character, is both attractive and repelling, with delightful depth and complexity. Her choice to have him spar with the phelgmatic and yet occasionally fiery Ness was a masterful one, and they complement each other beautifully. The opposing lines jutting from Aquila to his father and his son are neither overdone nor introduced as an afterthought of psychiatry; they put their roots deep into the character, and fundamentally shape the story.

Quite besides the towering shape of Aquila, Sutcliff’s ensemble are all painted in equally vivid (but never just equal) colours, forming a rich and dazzling tapestry against which the tragic and heart-wrenching saga is told. Most amazing of all is the ability she has to express fully twenty-five years of a family’s life into two or three hundred pages. Nothing feels hurried or rushed, and if she takes us to dally at a Jutish farm a hundred miles away from anything for years at a time, and spins the delightful story of Bruni and his quarrelsome family into the mix; if she sees fit to send Aquila soul-searching and plumbing the depths of vagabondcy and cruelty before spinning him to dizzying heights of grandeur and his ever-elusive peace; then so be it.

Her writing is the same ornate and grandiose thing that it has always been, with meticulous attention paid to every background scene, bringing Rome-in-Britain’s sad remains abruptly to life with the same nostalgic and mournful feel that this book’s two predacessors possessed; and yet, of course, managing that trick so difficult to perfect: the detailed prose that does not become either prosaic or languid. For all the mighty creations that Sutcliff brought to life in her career as a writer, this one can hold its head up high, and aspire to be crowned above them all.


1 Comment

  1. Book Blogger Hop, and Further Recommendations « The Warden's Walk said,

    […] The best book reviews on the Internet, in my opinion, are written by J. Holsworth Stevenson, writer & purveyor. He cuts straight to the heart of a book concisely, revealing much about its tone, its themes, and the personality of the author without ever summarizing the plot or rambling about irrelevant matters. He is, in fact, my model review-writer, as I try (usually in vain) to cut out the chaff in my writing and get to the point. My favorite review of his happens to be about my favorite book: The Lantern Bearers, by Rosemary Sutcliff. […]

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