Stuart Hill on a classic that is almost the complete children’s story…
I’ve been a fan of Rosemary Sutcliff for many years and envy both her style and her easy story-telling ability. I suppose she’s best known for her tale of Roman Britain, The Eagle of the Ninth , but the one I really wish I’d written is Warrior Scarlet . For me it’s almost the complete children’s story, including wonderfully rounded and completely human characters, full of foibles and failings, and all packaged in a totally believable evocation of Bronze Age Britain.
Drem, as the main character, is delineated in sometimes almost painful clarity as a young boy on the threshold of his initiation into the adult male world of the warrior. But apart from the usual difficulties and dreads that any boy would face in such circumstances, Drem has the added problem of a disabled arm. Sutcliff quite clearly must have drawn on her own experiences of a childhood illness that left her disabled to so brilliantly capture the troubles of her young hero. But even so, her ability to truly empathise with her characters and the stresses they face in their everyday lives shines throughout all of her books. This surely is the essence of good writing, that a genteel English lady, born between the first and second world wars, should have the ability to write so convincingly about Roman legionaries, Bronze Age warriors, and Dark Age slaves.
Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff is published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (978 0 374 48244 2) and is available via Amazon. Stuart Hill’s latest book is Blade of Fire: The Icemark Chronicles (Chicken House, 978 1 90444 288 2, £12.99 hbk).