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on February 13, 2006
As an avid historical fiction fan, I am always looking for new authors to check out. I checked this one out mainly due to the praise that Bernard Cornwell heaped on it, and I was not dissapointed. In a nutshell, this is the start of a series, centering around the characters Macro and Cato. Loads of action, little doses of humour, and well developed characters (for this type of fiction) abound. Reads very much like one of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels, set in Roman times. Highly reccomended, I have since ordered all of the sequels.
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on January 22, 2004
I enjoyed reading "Under the Eagle." The plot and character development held my interest enough to keep me reading. It's a quick read and I was able to finish it in day. It kept me turning the page and interested to find out what would happen next. That pretty much fills my criterion of an entertaining read and that's all I expected from it. I didn't start reading it with the belief that it would rival Pressfield's "Gates of Fire" or Chiavetone's "A Road We Do Not Know" as a modern classic of military historical fiction and it most certainly did not.
"Under the Eagle" is an attempt to give the reader a "boots on the ground" view of the Roman army in the 1st Century AD by following the lives and adventures of two junior officers in the 2nd Legion- a veteran, battle-hardened centurion, Macro, and a fresh-faced, kid recruit, Cato, who because of connections is promoted to Macro's optio or second-in-command. It's a neat premise- what was it like to live and fight in a Roman Legion. However, Scarrow was only partly successful in creating this premise into a compelling work of historical fiction.
Scarrow obviously did some heavy historical research to capture the locations and political atmosphere of the era. However, one also gets the idea that Scarrow has watched too many war movies and unfortunately fell back on those memories to fill his novel with cliches and anachronistic dialogue. The recruit training parts are something out of "Full Metal Jacket" and the relationship between Macro/Cato is similar to the one between John Wayne and John Agar had in "The Sands of Iwo Jima"- a soft, rich kid grows up and becomes a leader under the tutelage of a battle-hardened vet. The most jarring fault of Scarrow is having his Roman soldiers talk just like modern-day Brits. It's extremely silly when you come across this dialogue and really helps ruin the historical atmosphere. (In my life I have taken five years of Latin and I never learned the Latin equivilents of "wanker," "bloody," or "bugger.")
Also, Scarrow seems to get bored with describing the day to day lives of 1st century legionnaires and thus moves the plot into one of political intrigue. It would have been nice to get a more detailed look at life in a Roman century- like what kind of men made up the Roman army. However, with a few weakly drawn exceptions, the men of the 6th Century, 4th Cohort are mostly nameless figures whose only purpose is to fill out the casuality rolls.
The faults of this novel are glaring, but I still finished it in a day. So there is definetely something here that is worth checking out if you like historical fiction. I thought Scarrow did a great job of introducing characters and plot strings that really make one want to continue reading. I was pulled into this novel early on. It is also well-plotted and the historical setting is very interesting. So if you're looking for a fun, quick read of historical fiction then by all means check out "Under the Eagle."
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on May 19, 2002
This book is a cross between comic book action and a mystery. Simon Scarrow demonstrated his knowledge of the Roman legion from start to finish, and I felt educated in that regard when I finished. Nonetheless, the action and dialogue to a degree had a "comic book" feel about them. That's okay and it made for fast, light reading, but the prose was far short and less satisfying than one might find in other books in the genre. Scarrow builds a mystery filled with political intrigue around his historical focus. This book is not about the Roman conquest of Britain; don't be misled. The actual crossing occurs late in the book and the real action prior to that event (and a good piece of action)occurs early in the novel in Germany. Throughout the book, I reminisced to younger days when I read "Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos" and "Sgt. Rock and Easy Company" comics. I can still enjoy them, but I was looking for more with this book.
If you are looking for a fast read with good action when it happens combined with an overlay of mystery and political intrigue, you can enjoy this book. If you are looking for the depth of a "Tides of War," you won't find it here.
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on May 16, 2002
Like a welcome pint after a long hard day, this just slips down and you don't want it to stop.
This is gripping stuff - 200 pages just flashed by in a welter of action - another cup of tea, then back into the thick of it, the latter part spiced with a touch of amour, a little subtle humour and a complex web of intrigue ... I couldn't put this down.
By using modern vernacular Mr.Scarrow avoids the trap of having the characters speak in a pseudo olde-worlde style - if not done properly it descends into farce ... at first it seems out of place, then is forgotten as the pace of the plot consumes everything else.
As might be expected from a History major, the tale is based on actual events leading to the invasion of Britain. Cato and Macro seem an ill-suited pair initially, but now seem destined for the same sort of partnership as Aubrey/Maturin - the illiterate man of action teamed with the young intellectual, who is not afraid of action either.
I finished this in 2 sittings - there HAS to be a sequel - a damned fine read.*****.
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on April 12, 2002
I discovered this book via Amazon, which proves the value of the company's approach to its customers once again. Under The Eagle cover the events leading up to the Claudian invasion of ancient Britain....This is something I'm extremely pleased by. If the rest of the series matches the quality of this first novel then fans of historical fiction around the world are in for a rare treat. Not only is the story pacy and exciting, in a way that really does make you want to turn the pages, Scarrow manages to write in a witty and wonderfully descriptive way. The sense of setting is quite palpable, no more so than in the midst of battle when the fear and exhaustion are experienced almost at first hand by the reader. The lead characters, tough centurion Macro, raw recruit Cato and ambitious legate Vespasian are all finely drawn and totally credible. Scarrow has a good ear for dialogue, which feels natural and parallels the rhythms of normal speech nicely. Exposition is unobtrusive and we don't get that laboured introduction to the ancient world to which other writing about this period is alarming prone. The plotting is excellent and makes a second reading a pleasure.
If there is a weakness in this wonderful book, it is that it has set up a level of expectation for the subsequent novels that I fear will not be justified. I've ordered the sequel direct from and am looking forward to reading it with a little bit of trepidation as a result....
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on March 11, 2002
Ever wonder what it would be like to be a legionaire of the Roman empire at the height of her power? Of course you have! Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this review. Well, look no further; this novel should be enough to satisfy your curiousity...for awhile at least.
Here is a story of military initiations and rites-of-passage, heroism and the magnificent grandeur of the single most long-lasting empire in world history. The story is complete with graphic battle scenes, Julius Caesar's lost treasure, conspiracy theories (ancient Rome was never short on those), deceit, betrayal and edge-of-your-seat excitement.
The story takes place in & around the year A.D. 42 during the reign of Claudius. The narrative takes place right at the crux when the emperor is about to send his beloved forces abroad to invade England. In the tale we are also privileged to encounter the likes of 3 people who will "wear the purple" for Rome in the future: Vitellius, Vespasian and Titus. Scarrow does an excellent job of contrasting the despotic temperment of Vitellius with the noble & distinguished Vespasian. Titus is too young in the novel to be anything but a cute little tyke.
As a sidenote: It is no wonder that Vetellius was slain in A.D. 69 after only being in command a few months (the year of 4 emperors). No mystery that Vespasian was much more well-liked by his men, which caused his reign to last 10 years. He also died peacefully - something quite profound for an ruler of Rome.
Back to the story: if you're looking for a captivating military history novel, you would be hard-pressed to do better than this one. As a professor of classical history, Scarrow's expertise makes him a perfect candidate to write a book such as this. For glory, for nobility, for honor, FOR ROME!!!
For those who would like to learn more about the Roman legions, as well as their invasion of Britain, I would recommend LEGIONS OF ROME (ASIN: 6305534632). This documentary is also available @
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on January 12, 2002
In Latin virtue and courage are the same word and if one didn't know that one might guess it after reading this excellent book. The setting is early empire - in the reign of Emperor Claudius I. The hero joins a legion facing the German tribes on the Rhine and his induction, training, camp life and above all battle experiences are told with dashing, forceful realism. The author is clearly a man of talent and much may be expected of him; in this, his first novel, he shows signs of not yet having got up to full speed. Although he will no doubt continue with the same cast in further works, I would also like to see him follow in the footsteps of Robert Graves and take on a less well-trodden and perhaps more complex period in the struggling Later Empire such as the reign of the Emperors Nicephorus Phokas or Basil Bulgaroctonos, fascinating periods which are virgin territory for historical novellists I feel he would both illuminate the period he chooses and provide a feast of entertainment of his readers.
In a work of this sort it is difficult to avoid anachronisms completely but I think more accurate proofreading would have eliminated the reference to Greek Fire.
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on November 16, 2001
In 42 AD Claudius is Emperor, the Germans have been mostly subdued and Rome has the isle of Britain set as the next territory to be aquired. It has been nearly a century since Julius Caesar made his unsuccessful foray to subdue the Britons, and Claudius needs this success to assure his rule. Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasian, as Augusta and legate of the Second Legion, is to play a major role in the conquering of this new province.

Simon Scarrow does a wonderful job bringing history to life through the exploits of new recruit and optio Quintus Licinius Cato--and his centurion, Lucius Cornelius Macro. These two fictional characters weave a credible story by their interaction with fictionalized versions of Vitellius, Vespasian and his wife Flavia, and Narcissus--freedman, secretary and confidant of the Emperor Claudius.

I look forward to reading further novels by this author as they make their way into American publication, and highly recommend this work of fiction for anyone with interest in this part of history. You might also enjoy the "Roma Sub Rosa" series by Steven Saylor and the "SPQR" series by John Maddox Roberts.
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on February 25, 2009
A great first read. The characters leap off the page and the action makes you see the blood, sweat and triumph of Rome's legions.
I found the plot good for a first title and though some of the story seems a little contrived occasionally, I thought it a good start for a new series.
Looking forward to more in the next book, The Eagle's Conquest.
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on March 24, 2011
This a well researched book with a lot off action through out the book. It involves 2 main characters, 1 is centurian who has been in the army for a while and the other is young lad who has just been made optio (his assistant) to the annoance of his fellow soliders and is a bit wet behind the ears. The book is based around the build up to and roman invasion off britain itself. It involves fictional characters like the 2 main characters as well as some real life characters which are mainly the leaders. Simon Scarrow brings the characters to life and makes them relistic as well as making the book a very enjoyable and exciting read. I found this a good bed time read, as in the chapters are a nice length to just pick up and put down at anytime. Not that I really wanted to put it down because I really enjoyed it and I'm really looking forward to reading the rest in the series.
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