Book Review: When the Eagle Hunts by Simon Scarrow

This third volume in Scarrow’s Eagle series sees our two heroes, the central character Cato and his Centurion Macro, sent on a private mission to rescue the family of General Plautius. They have been captured by a group of outraged Druids who wish to trade them for a number of Druids held as POWs following the battle of Camulodunum.

The novel opens with the hapless pair at a banquet. Cato is being seduced by future warrior queen Boudicca. This I found a little bit incredulous. I know that Scarrow likes to work real historical figures around his fictional characters but still… this was a little too much on top of everything else.

My major complaint centres on the central character, Cato. Firstly, his bitterness at the girl who betrayed him and the man who killed her gets a bit too much at times. Secondly, he has changed far too much since the first book and the interesting dynamic between the Optio and the Centurion is already lost, making the overall story a lot less interesting. Though in light of the final chapter, the series will now undergo a change of direction – it will be interesting to see how their relationship changes in view of these events or indeed, whether Macro takes on a smaller role.

This was perhaps a little more educational than the previous book; Scarrow has woven in the complexities of the Roman conquest of Britain rather well, taking care to dispel the myth that it was entirely an aggressive military campaign to destroy the tribes and make Britain a Roman province. The truth is nothing of the sort; Rome had allies amongst the native Britons and they had invited a task force over to assist them against the aggression of other tribes. There had also been trade for many decades and Scarrow is very keen to point out all of these facts and intricately demonstrates the polarised reaction to Roman presence on the island.

Other real world characters include the dastardly Vitellius (who murdered Cato’s lover in the last book) and fellow future Emperor Vespasian. Anybody with an interest in 1st Century Roman history knows how that story is going to pan out when we eventually reach that point. Currently, the series is up to book eleven, which is called Praetorian. I find that I am becoming increasingly ambivalent about this series. It isn’t bad, in fact there is nothing actually wrong with it, it just doesn’t light my fire either. I guess I have been spoilt by Lindsey Davis’ Falco series and Harry Sidebottom’s Warrior of Rome. I’m not excited about reading the next in the series but I probably will.

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