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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

SPOILER ALERT!

Beneath The Wheels Of Roman Britain

Outcast - Rosemary Sutcliff

Another of Rosemary Sutcliff's novels set in Roman Britain, though not part of the Eagle Of The Ninth series, Outcast is the story of Beric, washed up on the shores of Britain as a baby after his parents were drowned when their ship foundered off the coast of south-western England.

Although Beric's parents were clearly Roman, he is adopted by British parents whose own infant has died some months earlier. The adoption is resisted by some elements in their tribe who feel that to take in the child of the hated Romans is an insult to the gods. But the childless couple are determined.

However, resentment still simmers in some quarters and when fifteen years later bad harvests followed by plague threaten the life of the tribe, Beric is made a scapegoat and cast out of the tribe. Rejected by his adopted people, he decides to seek out those whom he now thinks of as his true people, the Romans, and heads for the nearest Roman fort determined to volunteer for the Roman legion. An innocent abroad, he quickly falls into the hands of Greek slave-merchants and for the next four years his life is a daily round of toil, misfortune and bitterness from which he is only rescued by his own dogged refusal to die and a piece of remarkable good fortune.

With her characteristic sense of location, her keen observation of nature and her unblinking focus on the struggle of the individual caught up in the tide of history, Rosemary Sutcliff holds up a mirror that shows us both sides of the Roman world: the magnificently efficient military machine that transformed the world around it, and the inhuman disregard for the suffering of those unfortunate enough to be ground beneath its wheels.