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Instead of leaving with the last of the Roman legions, Aquila, a young officer, decides that his loyalties lie with Britain, and he eventually joins the forces of the Roman-British leader Ambrosius to fight against the Saxon hordes.
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  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
"We are the Lantern Bearers . . ."

There are no words worthy to sum up such a deeply and achingly glorious, beautiful, and profound story as The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff. It's an incredibly powerful tale of light, hope, life, and healing found amid darkness, despair, tragedy, and pain. There's such beauty to be found in this story--a heartwrenching beauty that comes through pain and sadness and darkness--but one that's all the more deeply beautiful because of them. And the same is true of the bittersweet joy the book contains.

Note: There are minor spoilers throughout this review. Major spoilers are in spoiler tags.

Content information is listed at the end of this review.

The Lantern Bearers is the gripping story of one young man's journey from light through sudden, lasting, overwhelming darkness, loss, and tragedy. It's the story of how, piece by piece and layer by layer, he begins finally to find life and light and healing once again. It's the story of what it means to hold on to humanity in the midst of oppression. It's the story of a family lost and torn apart, and of a new family forged against all odds. It's a story of how every time the world seems to end, taking all life and meaning with it as it's overcome by darkness, life and light still go on shining. And it's a story of forgiveness and peace conquering half a lifetime of hate and bitterness.

While it's not my top favorite of Miss Sutcliff's novels, The Lantern Bearers comes very close to that honor, and it's grown on me as I've matured and become used to its sadness. I like and enjoy my top two favorites, The Eagle of the Ninth and The Silver Branch, slightly more, possibly because they're lighter and brighter despite some darkness, while still containing incredible depth and vividness of character and theme. But The Lantern Bearers is solidly in third place, a hair behind those two.

And in my estimation, I've realized that The Lantern Bearers is her best book in many ways, and I can see why many fans count it as their top favorite, by far. Because The Lantern Bearers has infinitely more depth and beauty even than Sutcliff's many other deep and beautiful works. The darkness and the pain it contains make the light and life stand out as all the more shining and precious. And the brutal tragedy that bruises my heart also gives an opportunity to explore thoughts, feelings, and themes that are possibly much more profound even than Sutcliff’s usual wonderful writing.

Even the title of The Lantern Bearers attests to its deep, shining, thoughtful beauty and themes. Far more than any other Sutcliff book, the title is wrapped up and the themes and symbols that are woven throughout the book, woven with incredible meaning and beauty. In several places throughout The Lantern Bearers, the events of the story represent--even in a physical, literal sense--what it means to hold up a light in the midst of overwhelming darkness. Some of my favorite quotes in the book are when wise and far-seeing characters point this out.

The characters of The Lantern Bearers, though bitter and flawed, are much of what makes the book so wonderful and deep and beautiful--especially the protagonist, Aquila, because of his compelling story and journey. Sutcliff makes me care so deeply about them all, even though many of them are not likeable or nice--especially the most prominent characters, who I care about most--and I even care strangely about at least one of the mildly antagonistic characters, while hating the more evil antagonists. But I care most of all for Aquila and the people close to him. We watch Aquila and the rest go through pain, but at the end of it all, we also see them find life and healing after the tragedy. And we watch them walk the road set before them, doing everything they can to fight for the light and "hold back the dark."

Aquila's journey is a fascinating, raw, and powerful one, and because Aquila himself is a fascinating character with a fascinating life story, it grips me every time I read it, as I described at the beginning of this review. There are so many nuanced sides to him, and he's so real, and so vivid, and so fiery. It's easy for me to engage with and connect to him even though he's so different from me.

This last reread, it was so intriguing, heartbreaking, and painfully bittersweet for me to go back to the beginning of Aquila's story after already intimately knowing the rest. To see who he was originally, before tragedy changed him--happy, loving, easygoing, cheerful, affectionate, quick to smile, healthy, and well-adjusted--because later on, he's the opposite of all those things. I paid more attention to it this time than ever before--and it made me emotional from the first page. When reading The Lantern Bearers for the third time, in even in the single freely happy chapter at the very start of the book, I was already near tears anticipating what was coming, and the destruction of Aquila's joy and all that he loved, and how that loss changed him. It's fascinating to see that development, but, most of all, heartbreaking. Afterward, he's still the same person inside, but he's been broken and turned bitter. It's interesting to see that his personality had the potential for both, even at the beginning--that he was the type of person who would react to tragedy by becoming bitter, though he chose to allow it. He was always made of sparks, and later on, they would constantly burn and torment him inside--and occasionally flare outward.

As it does every time since I first read his story at age 15, my heart broke to once again watch Aquila become a deeply bitter, angry, and vengeful young man, tormented by hate and rage and unforgiveness. My first two times reading it, I was almost shocked and horrified and discouraged by how sad his story is, and the horrible things he goes through, and the person he becomes. Always and still, I have longed for him to find peace and healing--and he does find it, in some form, though not for a long, long time. But I was ready for it this time, and I think I enjoyed it more, in spite of and including the sadness.

And this year, on my third, most recent read of The Lantern Bearers, I finally came to realize that I dearly love and even like Aquila. I'm not sure whether I did before, and I consciously thought that I didn't, even though I've always cared about him very deeply, and appreciated him as a character. I think I used to see the bitterness, most of all. But there's more to him than a bitter, angry young man. Before and even after he became that way. It broke my heart to watch him in his angriest, most bitter moment, before he begins to let go of some of the hate--but that was actually the moment I realized I love him, because I want more for him than the empty life he had at that point.

And yes, there is more to him than that. Even though he's closed off his heart, he still has deep love there, buried far down inside his heart. That love is part of why he's tormented so badly. And why he's so bitter and vengeful and unforgiving. Nothing excuses the person he became. But I understand how he became that way, and I respect him for trying to change. The fact that I love and care about him means I tolerate his deep flaws and unkind behavior far less than I would if I didn't care. I don't tolerate them at all, and they sadden me. I care about him enough to want him to change, to root for him as he finally does, and to hold him to his actions, their consequences, and the requirement to make amends.

Becoming such a bitter person involves a choice to react a certain way, a choice to allow oneself to become that person, and a choice not to fight to hold onto the opposite life. It's a choice to remain that way, even when it's eating him up inside and hurting the people he should protect. But it's also a choice to grow and change from that person into someone better, to realize the destructive effect it's having on him and those closest to him, and to do something about it. Aquila made the first choices, and only he can make the last one. And it's hard. But worth it.

Because what's even sadder than the effect of Aquila's life experience on himself--as a solitary lone wolf who stays far away from human closeness--is the effect his bitterness has on the people closest to him, once he's forced to form lasting bonds he avoided for so long.

This is a story centered around Aquila and his family relationships. It's about his reaction to the destruction and loss of the family he grew up with. And it's even more about how he damages, neglects, and rejects the remnant of his old family members and relationships--as well as the ones he gains later on.

But it's also a story of how there's hope and healing and life to be found even in the deepest darkness. It's a story of how even the things that are most damaged and broken can be healed and regained.
Of how the fight goes on even when the battle seems lost--with relationships as well as other things. And eventually, Aquila learns—imperfectly--to fight for his relationships as well as his nation. He realizes they're of great worth, and how he's hurt them.

Aquila's family members and his relationships with them are just as gripping as Aquila himself. The story centers around them along with him, particularly Flavia and Ness. I'm also fascinated by the contrast and similarity between Aquila's two families--the one he grew up with, and the one he gained later on.

Most important are the relationships Aquila has with Flavia, his sister, and Ness, his wife. Ness and Flavia are each totally unique and different, but similar in many ways. I think Aquila must have sensed that, deep down--though if he'd known it consciously, he would have stayed far away from Ness. All three are very fiery and wild, but in different ways. Both young women seem to be made of sparks, as Aquila is himself. Aquila's sparks are the restrained, dry, sharp kind that come from constant, intense friction. With Flavia, it's sparks of bright, shining laughter--and Ness's kind of sparks are rougher and earthier and more stubborn. And the two young women are alike in other ways--in what happened to them, in the all-important choice they both made, in the singing Aquila notices in them both, and even in complexion. They're very different, of course, and unique--but the intentional parallels are so interesting and bittersweet.

And they're also alike in that both Flavia and Ness have incredibly deep and significant influence on Aquila. He loves them both, even when he refuses to admit it, in the middle of the book. He doesn't want to love, because he thinks being alone is the only way to avoid hurt--but he can't help it, once he has someone to care about, and he knows that. And he still loves Flavia, after it all--even though it hurts him and destroys him because he still loves her.

Growing up with Flavia influenced the person Aquila was his whole life. I love seeing their wonderful relationship at the beginning of the book, and I ache to see their pain later on. It was painfully bittersweet for me to see again the vivid, wonderful portrayal of their affectionate relationship in the first chapter. It's an intensely precious, sweet, pure, joyful, comfortable, and lively sibling relationship, and I love it--even though it brings me pain to see it, because of what's coming. It's rare that Sutcliff writes siblings--her books are usually populated by wonderful cousin relationships--but she makes up for that with Aquila and Flavia. They have such a beautiful relationship, and they are devoted to each other--close, lifelong best friends, even closer than me and my wonderful brothers. Their deep familial love is so evident in the way they joke and laugh and talk together, or just sit comfortably and contentedly side by side. It brings me joy to see it. But it also breaks my heart to see this bright, devoted love between the brother and sister as they enjoy each other--because I know they'll be torn apart very soon. And it hurts to see that Aquila's deep love for his sister becomes something that torments him, because he can't stand to consider that she may be going through something terrible. He later finds out that she has--and that, plus a related discovery and a perceived betrayal, destroys him. He blocks off his heart and refuses to be close to another person--refuses to love anyone, or admit that he still loves his sister. But he does still love her--even though he refuses to acknowledge that, or to forgive her. It's heartbreaking. And it also hurts to see it destroy his life and his future relationships--to see him allow it to do so. But after the book breaks my heart, it puts my heart back together--because finally, Aquila finds healing and closure and peace and redemption. It takes a long time, but I'm so glad he does. And that instead of choosing to hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness, he makes the right choice, in the end. He makes the choice to act out of love in Flavia's best interest, to mend their relationship, mend the wrong done to him and by him, and mend his own heart and life.

And after Aquila changed into someone nearly unrecognizable from the young Aquila, Ness was the one who helped him slowly change into a better person. She refused to tolerate his flawed behavior and firmly, inexorably influenced him to change. And he also changed from not loving anyone--to loving her and their son. It took a long time for him to grow from someone who didn't love at all--a loner who had blocked off his heart--into a loving person. He made mistakes along the way--many. But I find that story compelling, of how he did come to love them in the end. And though many people may not enjoy reading about a relationship that begins as a loveless marriage, with Aquila as a failed husband--I think it's realistic, given the person he was. It saddens and frustrates me that Aquila doesn't do much better even once he starts trying. But I think it would have been unrealistic and misleading and harmful to portray such a flawed, bitter person as Aquila--changing overnight. He did change. But it over the course of two decades of marriage, not the two years I wish it had taken. It began after two years--but it took a lot longer. And that's how it is in real life, if someone like that does end up changing--though they more often don't. It takes work and effort and the desire to change, and Aquila carried those things out, eventually. And it's wonderful to see at the end of The Lantern Bearers that he's come to a better place, and that he and his family are healthier for it. I really love seeing Aquila and Ness's love for each other grow gradually over the course of the book--starting with the birth of their son, early on, and increasing haltingly but steadily over the next many years. At first, there's no love between them, and Aquila doesn't care at all or want a wife--but then he does care and want her, and begins to love her and their son. They started out without love and with a damaged relationship--and in many marriages, it stays like that forever--but I'm so glad it didn't remain that way with them, even though it changed very slowly and haltingly. I love seeing Aquila and Ness's relationship become something wonderful by the last chapter. It means infinitely more after the way they started out, because they fought for their love and marriage every step of the way.

Another pair of relationships is similar in its parallels--Aquila's relationship with his father mirrors his relationship with his son, later on. In both relationships, there's a connection and loyalty and similarity between the individuals that take part. But the two relationships are also opposite in many ways. The former is built on love and friendship, and the latter is often cold and not particularly loving--though there is a love there--just buried deep and not expressed. Aquila desperately wishes the second relationship to be like the one he had with his father--but he fails, and he knows that and regrets it. It's even more painful to see him fail when he knows he's failing. The contrast between the man Aquila is and the man his father was is sad and stark. And my heart aches to see it. Thankfully, Aquila has relationship with his son finally improves in tiny increments, when Aquila makes a great effort, but he misses so many chances, and makes so many mistakes along the way, that it's hard to watch. It's probably the hardest thing in the book for me, even more than the tragedy and hardship near the beginning. And he makes even more mistakes in his relationship with his son than with his wife. With Aquila and his son, doesn't truly improve until the last chapter, and I hope Aquila takes the chance he was given then. I believe he must, even though the book ends there, and I can't know for sure. But I think he does, and it's wonderful to see, after all a pain. Because Aquila finally realizes fully the precious value of the relationships he has with his wife and son--and how they chose him, even if it took him longer to choose them. He's become a better man, for them, and I'm glad.

As I discussed, Aquila fails in many ways, and becomes a worse person before he becomes better--which disappoints me. However, he becomes great in other ways, and in the life he makes for himself. Aquila works to become excellent at what he does--training men and horses, and becoming a successful military commander and leader of men. He already possesses the drive and passion to fight for what he believes in--to preserve his country and protect his people, when the enemy is threatening to stamp them out of existence. He is an incredibly hard worker, and he goes far because of it. I don't know if I fully realized before the contrast between his position in life at the end of The Lantern Bearersand the place he started after his old life was destroyed. And because I care about him, it makes me happy and proud to see him succeed. Though others helped him along the way--including a kind stranger who changed his life--Aquila could not have succeeded without a lifetime of hard work. Aquila took the rags of an empty, broken life and fought to make a better life for himself--with the help of others, but at the core, by his own work and effort. I was amazed to see that the words of another character were true: "You are a great man among your own people." And Aquila is, after it all. Even though he started as a lowly slave, he became a high-ranking commander in the British army, directly under the king. That's impressive. And it makes me really proud and glad to see it. To see him as a man of authority who is respected by the men around him, above him, and under him--a great leader and warrior. He's failed for many years in many ways--especially the most important ways, until later--but in that way, he's been incredibly, admirably successful.

But what means even more than seeing Aquila as a great man in his position in society--is his realization at the end of The Lantern Bearers that his life is great and rich in the ways that count the most. His family is what matters. And he finally realizes that. ...

Because of limited space, this lengthy review is continued below--along with a content review for those who are interested. ( )
  Aerelien | Mar 23, 2020 |
Orig. published by Oxford University Press. ( )
  ME_Dictionary | Mar 20, 2020 |
This last of the 3 books of The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles, this slightly overlaps Sword at Sunset, though there are a couple of discontinuities, the foremost being Aquila's family ring in the first 3 being Ambrosius's gift to Artos while Aquila is still living. For me this is much the best book, not being the buddy road trip of the first two, or the opaque ruler of the last, Aquila is a damaged man who with only a little help over a long period of time is able to win something of worth for and within himself and to finally share that. ( )
1 abstimmen quondame | Aug 9, 2019 |
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» Andere Autoren hinzufügen (3 möglich)

AutorennameRolleArt des AutorsWerk?Status
Rosemary SutcliffHauptautoralle Ausgabenberechnet
Keeping, CharlesIllustratorCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Lively, PenelopeEinführungCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Pisarev, RomanIllustratorCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
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Instead of leaving with the last of the Roman legions, Aquila, a young officer, decides that his loyalties lie with Britain, and he eventually joins the forces of the Roman-British leader Ambrosius to fight against the Saxon hordes.

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