Title: The Lantern Bearers
Author: Rosemary Sutcliff
Series: Roman Britain Trilogy
Major Themes: Roman Empire, Britain, Saxons
Synopsis: After escaping from the Saxons who took him as a slave, Aquila joins Ambrosius, king of Britain, and battles not only the Saxons but his own anger and hatred.
I’m going through ancient history with my boys this year, using Sonlight Curriculum as a base for our explorations. We are branching out with a lot of other books, though, too. We just finished The Lantern Bearers, the third in Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman Britain series, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t think we’ll ever forget the turmoil in Britain at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire.
As The Lantern Bearers opens, young Aquila, who is a descendant of Marcus in The Eagle of the Ninth, and a commander of a troop of cavalry in Rutupiae, is home on leave. He is suddenly called back, however, and learns that the remaining Roman troops are being called back to the continent in three days. When he boards the boat to go to Gaul with his men, he comes to the conclusion that his place is in Britain, and he goes “wilful missing”. He heads back to his family’s farm—and the night of his return, the Saxons raid, burn the buildings, kill his father and all the servants, and take his sister captive. He himself is left for dead, but another Saxon raiding party takes him for a thrall, or slave.
After two or three years in Juteland, Aquila’s master takes him to Britain, where he is able to escape and join Ambrosius, the king of Britain. For years to come, they work to drive the Saxons out of Britain, or at least confine them to the coast. All this time, anger and hate rule Aquila’s heart,and he is unable to love anyone. Will Ambrosius win the war—or be killed? Will Aquila ever be able to be friends with his wife and son?
Right after we finished The Lantern Bearers, we bought The Timechart History of the World, a wonderful, illustrated timeline that folds out of a book. I had one of my sons write the titles of several of our recent historical novels on slips of Post-It paper and stick them in to the timechart in the appropriate place. We were excited to find a number of the people who figure in this book in the timechart—Vortigern, Vortimer, Hengest, and even Ambrosius! The Lantern Bearers really makes the end of Roman Britain come alive.
WARNING: Chapter 3: Name of Light, Lord God, placing a sword before an altar lamp, men bursting into a house and a battle, men killed. Chapter 5: By Thor’s Hammer. Chapter 6: swearing on Thor’s ring. Chapter 10: I swear by Aesculapius’s Rod. Chapter 11: taking an “ancient oath”, a battle. Chapter 14: the Saxons’ god knew how near, a battle, in the Christus’s name. Chapter 15: a man is killed, in the Name of Light. Chapter 16: people betray others and kill them, the poor devils. Chapter 18: swearing on Thor’s ring, ride like the hammers of hell, man killed. Chapter 16: a fierce battle.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15