Reviewed by David Maclaine
The Eagle and the Wolves, fourth in Scarrow's "Eagle" series, begins with its two heroes, Roman legionaries Macro and Cato, somewhat the worse for wear from injuries suffered in the third volume. The campaigns to conquer Britain rage on, and the Second Legion's push against the Durotriges is still underway, but the endeavor is beginning to look precarious because the drive west has stretched the Roman supply lines. How long can the army expect the tribes who have submitted to Rome, whose lands lie across those lines of supply, to remain loyal while suffering retaliatory attacks from their fellow Britons? Can the problem be solved by raising new cohorts of native troops and training them in Roman tactics? And if so, who is better placed to tackle that tricky job than the two recuperating officers who are temporarily detached from their units? Will the best efforts of Cato and Macro be undone by the treachery of local princes and the interference of a Roman functionary with an agenda of his own?
The scenes of military training, of breaching cultural barriers, of teaching discipline and forging unit pride, are the heart of this story, another enjoyable tale from the long annals of basic training. The plotline of The Eagle and the Wolves is more speculative than historical, given the scanty records that remain about the Roman invasion. It's based, as Scarrow admits at the end, on little more than his own analysis of how risky the strategic position seemed when the Second Legion marched west. Although we can't know whether anything like the portrayed attempt to employ native troops was ever tried, Scarrow's account of how such an effort might have played out feels convincing. His execution of the scenes of combat and betrayal are as skillful as ever, and the ending evokes rare pathos. Having made it this far in Scarrow's series, I intend to march all the way to the end with Macro and Cato, and I'm guessing you will too. (2003, 306 pages)More about The Eagle and the Wolves at Powell's Books or Amazon.com