by Rosemary Sutcliff
New York : Dutton, 1981, c1980.
Alexios is twenty-three, young to be as highly ranked as he is in the Roman Eagles, but his uncle is the Dux Britanniarum, and he has risen quickly. When his superior, Centurion Critos, is killed in battle young Alexios suddenly finds himself in command, and he makes an ill-fated decision. Now, he faces the consequences and is sent to the north to lead the Frontier Wolves. Can he ever recover from his mistakes and earn the respect of these men?
I've been slowly reading through the Dolphin Cycle series in chronological order, leading up to the book that I own, The Lantern Bearers. Up until this title, I've been enjoying the books alright, but a little bemused at how lauded Rosemary Sutcliff is. Frontier Wolf changed that for me. I found myself drawn in by the rich descriptions, slowing my reading down so that I could pick up on details (if I blinked and scanned a page too fast, I found that I had missed key information about a character or a season change). The plot unfolds slowly, so that for the first half of the book I wondered where it was going to end, and for the second half I realized how inevitable the results were. There is nothing to mark these as exclusively children's books: the main character is in his twenties, and the pace develops slowly while the characters and description carry the book for some time. Not to mention, this one deals with war in a very realistic way and had such a melancholy tone. I don't think most children would pick up on the nuances of the story, but perhaps I do not give young readers as much credit as the author obviously does. While it's not perfect - the dialog still sounds stilted at times, for example - this book left me excited to read the next book in the series.