I have literally just devoured the whole of the book and I cannot begin to express how I feel about this masterpiece of literature.
Set one hundred years after The Eagle of the Ninth, this story follows descendants of Marcus: Flavius (he actually had the same name as Marcus) and Justin (or Justinianus… or something similar). They meet somehow and soon make friends. After a sequence of strange events, they soon ‘flee’ (not fleeing as in from battle, but they leave) and find out there is a plot to overthrow the evil emperor, Allectus. They both get caught up in it and have to risk everything of theirs, even their lives.
Wow. Wow. Wow. This book made me breathless (not literally) with excitement and shock. There are so many great characters, and I would like to mention Justin and Flavius (as they are the main, and the best characters). Justin is the surgeon in the cohort, not a soldier, and has a great personality. You could think he is weak and useless, but in certain scenes he shows his strength and goodness. Flavius, at first, seemed quite angry, quite quiet, with some kind of inner turmoil (whatever that means. It just seemed like the right word to use) that he wouldn’t share. He keeps this personality throughout the book, but you love it and sometimes he shows, like Justin, his strength and goodness. These two seem quite different sometimes, but together (much like Marcus and Esca) make a great, powerful team. There is also a character in the book, who appears near the beginning, and you, until a certain point, may think he is not important for the story but at a later point, this little guy shows immense courage and loyalty to… Well, read it to find out. The style of writing is the usual, brilliant, Sutcliff style that you will be used to if you have read her other works, and it suits the story perfectly. There is an amazing mix of everything in this story, and you really, really, REALLY sympathise with the ‘good’ characters and feel strong dislike towards the ‘bad’ characters. The character of Caurasius, however, is a strange one. At first, the way he is described makes him seem quite selfish and evil (he went over to Britain and proclaimed himself Emperor of Britian, without the permission of the true Emperor) but after a point, after you learn the truth about Allectus, you really begin to like him more. Soon he really wins a place in your heart (where you hold all your love for the good characters!) and you are really on his side.
I have to mention one certain scene in particular: when the huge enemy army are attacking the basilica where EVERYONE in the city of Calleva is hiding. The way she describes the huge ram (one of the defenders’ own bits of timber from their wood-stores) battering the door makes it more tense, and if you were there, you would just want to stop and say your final prayers, but Justin (in particular) has things to do and he just has to get on with them, with the constant battering against the walls a reminder that he has not much time left and cannot do his job at his own pace. Then the battle scene is just so… moving. Seriously, I can’t think of another word. One character, who I have mentioned earlier, exhibits great bravery and loyalty and it really makes you… Makes you feel however you would. I’m not one of those people who cries at stupid not sad movies, but this scene was written so beautifully, it really cut into me like no other book has.
Also, there are many different ‘symbols’ in the book. One symbol played a big part in The Eagle of the Ninth, and in The Silver Branch, it represents something else, really using one of the more let-down features on it as its main point, the… wood that keeps the flame of the defenders’ fight burning. There is another symbol, quite like the mockingjay pin in the Hunger Games series, a quiet symbol of rebellion. The final symbol is something quite different, and is the personal accessory of one character who has seen many things in his life he did not want to see, but still uses this symbol (he wore it in his past days, when his life was terrible) and wears it wherever he goes.
This book cannot be described in words that do it justice. Think of the most praising kind of word you know, and multiply it by infinity. The book was as good as that, better in fact. Some people have reviewed this book badly, saying it was worse than The Eagle of the Ninth (it had the usual let-downness of sequels), but I totally disagree. This book was better than the first, and I will remember it forever as being probably my favourite book of all time. Even thinking of the book now is really making me… I don’t have the word for it. If you cannot do anything else in your life save for one thing, that one thing should be to experience true genius, and read this book. I seriously can’t give it a rating that would, again, do it justice. Just know, guys, that this book is too good for any kind of rating. Just read it. ❤
Your weird-feeling awestruck blogger, Jaz