Having an uncle in high places has its advantages. Alexios Flavius Aquila knows that he could never have earned a command of an entire cohort if his mother’s half-brother were not governor of Northern Britain. Nepotism does have its down sides, however. Senior officers often resent the quick ascent of a young man with connections, and experienced soldiers have little respect for greenhorns. Worst of all, though, is promotion to a position beyond one’s capacity in which one makes a bad decision resulting in the loss of many lives. Will Alexios ever live down his mistake on the German frontier?
Faced with a possible court martial, Alexios again finds himself grateful to Uncle Marius. A second (and perhaps last) chance to prove that he is worthy of his family’s great military history, sends Alexios to the Northern Wall in Britain to command the Frontier Scouts, a motley crew of Romans and tribesmen known for their resourcefulness and unconventional ways. Alexios’s first challenge will be to win them over. When the frontier peace is broken by a hot-headed native, the loyalty of his men is put to the test, and he again must make a difficult decision on which many lives depend.
Rosemary Sutcliff fans will not be disappointed in this novel about friendship, family ties, courage and integrity. Alexios is a realistic character: a young man who must face his mistakes and conquer his fears. The reader cannot help but empathize with him as he confronts complex situations in which friendship and duty are at odds. One incident in the story bears mentioning. Alexios’s visiting commander condemns a tribesman to a horrific execution, and Alexios decides to kill the prisoner in order to spare him a long, drawn-out death. Younger readers may require an explanation as to the moral implications of this act and how it relates to Roman culture.
A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is currently a full-time wife and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.