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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review "The Sign of the Eagle"

A strong Romano-Celtic woman, July 26, 2012



Fred Mench - See all my reviews


This review is from: The Sign of the Eagle (Paperback)


   By page 5 Titus Antonius, Roman military tribune in the First Legion Italica and husband of the Celtic protagonist Macha Carataca, has been accused of treason in a plot to assassinate the emperor Vespasian. She knows, and we know, the charge can't be true, but it's page 258 before the officials know and let him out of prison. This leaves the majority of the book devoted to Macha's attempts to find evidence about the real traitors and, after page 132, when their son, young Titus, is kidnapped by the same bad guys, to find him. She pursues this, but the same unknown bad guys keep trying to kill her -- on the road down from Mediolanum to Rome and in Rome itself. They are afraid she may find evidence, and the attacks come both while she is going about her normal routine and when she sneaks out in disguise and puts herself into danger. This makes for a fast-moving and exciting novel.


Added to the action is the richness and correctness of historical detail providing the background to the action. If a reader wants a good introduction to life in Rome and its empire in 71 AD, this is a painless way to go about it. The characters are colorful, especially Macha, her friend, Senator Bassus, and Bassus' slave Shafer, who assists Macha in every way, including fighting by her side to fend off killers.


There are murders aplenty, but they are incidental in themselves, except as they tie in to the overall plot against Vespasian - and we think we know who is involved in that, but we can't be sure. The only historical character is the emperor himself, and he is about what we think of him from historical writers, though Macha is presented as the daughter of a real British king, Caratacus, who rebelled against Roman rule. The other characters, Romans and slaves, cover a wide range but all pretty much true to type. Macha does not match the type of most Roman women, but she is British in origin, and women played a different role there.


In general, there is nothing in the language or action to make this inappropriate for younger readers, but there are two sections that could prove a problem. When some street toughs attack Macha and Shafer at night and think they are prostitutes, there is a good bit of crude language about private parts. And when Crixus, one of the villains, is tortured on the wheel/rack by Bassus to get important information (and subsequent cooperation), the detail is graphic and might turn some readers off.


Although the incidents are all fictional, an additional attempt on Vespasian's life is no stretch. Macha perhaps survives more attacks than seems likely, but she is intended to be tough and is, able to handle a knife well and undergo hardships. This should be a quick and enjoyable read for the seasoned classicist and the historically interested layman alike.


Fred Mench

Professor of Classics, Emeritus 

Robert Stockton College of New Jersey and Middle Tennessee State University

--Thank you Professor Mench for a great review

Jess Steven Hughes

7:52 pm pdt          Comments

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