Hunting the Eagles
© 2016 Ben Kane
Six years ago, Rome was humiliated and a tenth of her army destroyed when a faithless auxiliary lured three legions into a boggy ambush in the Teutoburg forest. Centurion Tullus, one of the few survivors of the day, has cursed it since: demoted and barred from Italy, he can only mourn his fallen brothers and destroyed career. A chance encounter with Germanicus, newly appointed commander of the Rhine forces, offers him a chance to do more. Rome must punish the barbarians for their perfidy, and recover the eagles stolen from the men left to rot in Germany’s dark forests and rotten bogs. To avenge the fallen and restore the glory of Rome — this is Tullus’ mission.
As with Eagles at War we experience this summer through both Tullus’ and Arminius’ eyes. While Arminius devotes himself to the thankless task of keeping the German tribes united in their mission to defy Rome’s expansion (difficult, given how many German chieftans are headstrong and want to pursue their own targets), Tullus has the equally haunting mission of helping Germanicus confront a widespread mutiny in the ranks, followed by the dangerous business in German territory. With Tullus are a handful of his men from the now-lost 18th, who give us the infantryman’s perspective as well. We revisit (literally) the battleground of the ambush, as Germanicus wishes to pay his respects to the fallen and study the landscape his adversary so skillfully used. Although Germanicus is far wilier than Varus, Arminius presents no less a challenge.
Eagles at War is one of the best works of historical fiction I’ve ever read, and while Hunting the Eagles isn’t as stellar, it’s a case of shooting for the moon and landing in the stars; it’s still excellent reading. Kane presents us two opposing characters, both wholly sympathetic, and in the case of Tullus allows us to experience his strong bond with his men, as well. This is most effective when Tullus and Germanicus reach the hallowed ground where the dead lay, and Tullus and the others are overcome with grief for those who they had to abandon. It is their grief, distilled into determination for revenge, that allows Tullus and the others to survive Arminus’ continued efforts to destroy the morale of the Roman army and rout it once again. As with Eagles, I especially appreciate the way Kane integrates historical artifacts into the narrative; his characters exist not in a haze of memory and imagination, but are tied down to the real world — in objects of leather and metal, the remnants of which we can see today.
Expect quite a bit more of Kane this year; I have another book in this series, plus two in his Richard the Lionhearted series. Those two will arrive in April for Read of England.
Simon Scarrow’s own “Eagle” series, following two soldiers (a centurion and optio) through Rome’s campaigns in Britain, the Rhine, and the East.