Thursday, June 2, 2011

An Eagle in the Snow

Greetings everyone! Well, finally the warmer weather is upon us in Toronto. This felt like one of the longest winters ever but the snow and cold that we experienced over recent months did not deter me from getting out to some great bookstores to find some hidden gems. And did I find one!

Many of you who are die-hard historical fiction seekers may already have read Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem but for me, it was one of those books that I spotted once in a while but never actually put down the cash to buy it. There was always something else that grabbed my interest first. This time however, I thought “Ok. This is the umpteenth time this book has popped up. I’d better get it.”

The Drusus Monument
Moguntiacum (Mainz)

Eagle in the Snow is one of those books that has a perfect balance of fact, fiction, character development and action. Not once is storyline sacrificed on the altar of historical accuracy as is so often the case…and vice versa.

Wallace Breem, who was a British librarian, wrote Eagle in the Snow in 1970. The main character, Paulinus Gaius Maximus, is pulled from his command on Hadrian’s Wall at the end of the 4th century by General Stilicho to hold the Rhine defences at all costs against the increasing pressures of the Vandals, Alemanni, Marcomanni, Alans and the Quadi who are in turn being pushed west by the Huns. His base of operations is Moguntiacum, modern Mainz, Germany where you can still see remnants of the Roman presence in the area. Maximus, who is a follower of Mithras, faces not only his enemy in war but also Christians, both barbarian and Roman, adding a whole other dimension to the story. As a nearly flawless general he is loved by his troops who want to raise him to the purple but at the same time, he is a man with his own painful past, making him wonderfully vulnerable.

Roman Aqueduct
Moguntiacum (Mainz)
  For the Romanophiles out there this is a particularly poignant story and time in which it becomes obvious that the Roman Empire, along with its ageing generals and Legions, its very traditions, is teetering on the verge of utter collapse. This is also an important period for followers of the Arthurian tradition in that this is the time when, because of the very pressures being experienced along the Rhine and other frontiers, the Legions are withdrawn from Britannia and the Britons are told to look to their own defences.

Breem’s battle scenes are brilliantly laid out and easy to follow but he never underestimates his reader. If anyone out there wants an example of tight, informative and entertaining historical fiction this is a good read to go for. There is another book by Breem set in the Roman world entitled The Legate’s Daughter but I have not managed to find a copy yet. If I read the latter I will let you know what I think but for now, Eagle in the Snow is time well-spent and will leave you just a bit haunted by ghosts of the Roman past.
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