The Eagle Series, also known as Cato & Macro – Novels written by Simon Scarrow
Published by Headline (UK) & Thomas Dunne Books (USA)
It was a rainy day in Leeds when I first encountered a book by Simon Scarrow. I had finished the current novel I had been reading, can’t recall what it was, and was facing an hour-long commute home. I walked through Leeds outdoor market to a bookstore there that I knew had good priced new books – I do buy second-hand sometimes but prefer new. I browsed and saw ‘The Eagles Conquest’, it was a different cover to the main picture above.
(edit 8th Feb 2014 – the 12th book The Blood Crows is available in hardback & I wrote a review on 29th Jan 2014)
(edit 30th Oct 2014 – the 13th book Brothers in Blood is available In hardback & I wrote a review on 21st Oct 20014)
The bus ride home flew by; I was hooked instantly. This, I found, was the second book in a series and a quick check in Borders, then my bookstore of choice (since they closed I’ve become a loyal Waterstones customer), there were 4 books. I prefer browsing for books so despite the cheapness online I tend to use high street stores for major book purchasing; though I do also order direct from Simon through his main website, shared with his brother Alex, at times.
The world I had found was familiar, there was an air of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, and felt unique at the same time. This is due to the fact Simon really understands the period. He has the legionnaires talking like modern squaddies but has accuracy in the equipment, the ranks, social system, etc. We are in 42AD, Cladius is the Emperor and Britain is soon to be invaded.
The Eagle’s Conquest was a freestanding book, there was no issue that I’d missed one. But obviously as I had enjoyed it so much I needed that first book. It took maybe three or four months to find it in-stock. I believe that the fifth book, Eagle’s Prey, was in hard back by then, so they re-stocked the full series.
I then gobbled up each paperback in turn. I’d caught up by the publication of The Eagle in the Sand and that was the first Hard Back I bought in this series. I couldn’t wait for the paperback version – that is how much I enjoyed the series. Macro and Cato felt like friends now. I liked their friends and loathed their enemies right along with them. Figulus in particular is dear to me, as of course are Boudica and Prasutagus.
Cato is a freed slave who grew up in the Emperor’s palace. He is an intelligent, well read young man with a friendly, and at that time somewhat naive, personality. He was elevated to a citizen of Rome on the condition that he served in the Legion as a Centurion. On reaching the Legion this was varied to place him one rank lower, as an Optio,
Macro is a professional soldier, in the legion since he was 18. He’d done nearly sixteen years service and had only just been promoted to Centurion. He is a hard-nosed and thoroughly efficient soldier and he was given Cato to be his second in command.
Macro couldn’t read, one of the basic conditions to become a centurion is the ability to read. The Century’s clerk had been covering for Macro, and cooking the books at the same time. Cato taught Macro to read, Macro taught Cato to swim. The gap was bridged by a growing trust.
Forged in battle the relationship soon grew to a fraternal bond. Cato proved to be a good soldier under the tutelage of Macro. Moreover the efficient team they became together meant they were noticed by their superiors, something they may well regret as much as anything else. Their commander Valerian came to rely on them as trusted men. At the same time the Emporer’s secretary, Narcissus, decided to use them in his clandestine plans. Their loyalty to Vespasian and the Emperor also led them into conflict with Vitelius.
Those three characters are all real historical figures. Again the accuracy in detail, granted altered to fit the dramatic tension, pace, etc of the two central characters. I think we see the Rome of old through some bias on the side of Simon. But Narcissus was a schemer and Valerian was a very successful and popular General.
Simon has given us a tour of the Roman world. We started in Germania (Southern Germany) travelling to Britannia (Southern England) and then Illyria (stretching from Southern Slovenia to the Northern Albania, encompassing most former Yugoslavian Republics except Macedonia). Then to Parthia (Northern Iran) and Syria (including parts of Jordan). We are then transported to a slave revolt in Cyprus and a Nubian invasion in Egypt. The 11th book, Praetorian sees us back to Rome.
The books evolve along with Cato and Macro. Their relationship shifts over time but their tight bond, though tested, continues to hold true. Together they seem destined for great things. In the next novel, as yet no title is confirmed, we will see our heroes returning to Britannia.