Creator: Rosemary Sutcliff
Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) was a British writer of Young Adult Historical Fiction
, who published some fifty books between 1950 and 1997. She is best-known for her novels set in Roman Britain, particularly The Eagle of the Ninth
. She was awarded Commander of the British Empire for her services to children's literature.
Sutcliff was the daughter of a Royal Navy commander, and much of her work focuses on military officers and the life of the service. At two years old, she developed juvenile arthritis which partially crippled her; she spent much of her childhood in and out of hospital and used a wheelchair in later life. Medicine and disabled characters play a prominent role in her fiction. She was educated largely at home by her mother, who introduced her to literature, especially Celtic Mythology
and the Matter of Britain
. She also became a great admirer of Rudyard Kipling
, who strongly influences her prose, settings, and themes. As a young adult, she trained as an artist, working as a painter of miniatures. A vivid evocation of visual detail later translated to her writing.
She published her first books, The Chronicles of Robin Hood
and The Queen Elizabeth Story
, with Oxford University Press in 1950. They were followed by three more novels before her breakout bestseller The Eagle of the Ninth
, which as School Study Media
became the Trope Codifier
of the Lost Roman Legion
for generations of children, and has inspired several adaptations including the 2011 film The Eagle
. It was eventually followed by seven loosely linked sequels sometimes known as "The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles" or "the Dolphin Ring series", after the signet ring passed down through the generations
of a Roman British family.
Works with their own pages:
The official site of her literary estate is rosemarysutcliff.com
. An interview with Sutcliff can be read here
Rosemary Sutcliff's work includes examples of:
open/close all folders
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Her calling-card, too many to list.
- Anyone Can Die: Protagonists, best friends, dads, mentors, dogs, horses, babies...no one is safe.
- Author Appeal: Every trope listed below this one, pretty much.
- Author Catchphrase: Lots, including the coinages "woodshore" (the edge of the woods) and "house-place" (pointless alliteration).
- The North "went up in flames" about once per book
- "It is in my heart that" this is a long way to say "I think"
- Leaf-buds are like green flame or smoke, fire is like a flower, white flowers are like curds, and sea-foam is like cream
- "stirabout": because "stew" is cliche
- "wave-lift": also known as a hill, usually the Downs of southern England
- A Celtic woman invariably "carried herself like a queen". She may also wear braids "as thick as a swordsman's wrist" and her love interest may be able to "warm my hands at you". If she's really into him it's probably a case of "whistle and I'll come to you my lad" (a line stolen from Robert Burns' poem.)
- The green plover is always calling. Always.
- To say nothing of the curlew.
- Based on a True Story: Most of her Historical Fiction is set in the context of true events. Though her protagonists are usually fictional characters on the ground, they often cross paths with a Historical-Domain Character.
- Bittersweet Ending: Victory is fleeting, but Heroic Sacrifice is forever. They'll Earn Their Happy Ending at the least; at worst The Hero Dies. And the dog dies. And the horse.
- Bury Your Disabled: Is constantly averted along with other disability tropes. This is Reality Subtext - Rosemary Sutcliff used a wheelchair for most of her life. Her soldier protagonists are prone to Career-Ending Injury.
- Warrior Scarlet: Drem was born with an undeveloped right arm.
- A Circlet of Oak Leaves: Aracos has a heart murmur that disqualifies him from the Roman cavalry.
- The Fugitives: Lucian's legs were crippled by a childhood epidemic, probably polio.
- Dawn Wind: Clubfooted Vadir Cedricson is perhaps her only disabled antagonist.
- The Shining Company: Conn walks with a limp.
- Sword Song: The warrior Onund Treefoot is named for his wooden leg.
- The Witch's Brat: Lovel is born with a crooked back and foot, becomes an infirmarian monk, and more or less invents physiotherapy to help a man who crippled his leg in a fall.
- The Queen Elizabeth Story
- Lady in Waiting: Bess's friend and Historical-Domain Character Robin Cecil is hunchbacked.
- The Capricorn Bracelet
- Sword at Sunset: Artos's Companion Gwalchmai is clubfooted, but it doesn't stop him from being a cavalryman and a surgeon.
- Career-Ending Injury
- The Eagle of the Ninth: Marcus is discharged from the army for a maimed leg.
- The Mark of the Horse Lord: Midir was blinded to make him ritually unfit for kingship.
- Blood Feud: Jestyn's leg is maimed; he becomes a physician.
- Simon: Simon's dad loses a leg in battle.
- Bonnie Dundee: Hugh loses an arm; becomes a one-armed painter.
- Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: The bodyguard of the Byzantine emperor is featured in several novels as a kind of French Foreign Legion analogue. Jestyn, Thormod, and Anders are part of the founding of the Varangian Guard in Blood Feud; Prosper and Cynan ride off into the sunrise to join it at the end of The Shining Company; and Bedwyr is on his way to join it when he meets Artos and takes up with him instead in Sword at Sunset. And Sir Everard d'Aguillon says he'd join it if he were young in Knight's Fee.
- Allectus has a Saxon bodyguard/secret police/private army in The Silver Branch.
- Thomas Keith, the Brave Scot servant of the Albanian rulers of Ottoman Egypt, in Blood and Sand. Considering he once fought off ten assassins single-handed and became a general and the governor of Medina, he might count as a cadre.
- Canine Companion: Sutcliff Heroes Love Dogs, as she did. Besides most of her protagonists having one, several human characters are explicitly identified with dogs, and many Celtic characters have names including the word for dog, cu.
- The Queen Elizabeth Story: Perdita and her friends rescue a puppy.
- Brother Dusty-Feet: Big Friendly Dog Argos, whom Hugh runs away from home with to protect. Roland and Oliver are apparently each other's.
- The Eagle of the Ninth: Cub, the tame wolf pup caught by Esca.
- Outcast: Canog, a mistreated mongrel like her owner Beric; his childhood dog Gelert.
- The Lantern Bearers: Artos's dog(s) Cabal, original to King Arthur mythos.
- Warrior Scarlet: Whitethroat, for whose sake Drem fights a duel; Fand the Beautiful; various sheepdogs.
- The Bridge-Builders: Math the Hibernian wolfhound
- Knight's Fee: Joyeuse, named for a sword, to Bevis.
- Dawn Wind: Dog the Post-Apocalyptic Dog, the other Sole Survivor of Owain's Last Stand.
- Swallows in the Spring: Dexius's dim-witted hound, who crossed a warzone to find him.
- Blood Feud: Brindle the cattle dog, whose death Jestyn tries to avenge on Vikings who then capture him.
- Bonnie Dundee: Caspar the rescue dog is instrumental in reuniting the hero with his love interest.
- The Shining Company: Gelert the loyal but dim
- Sword Song: Astrid, whom Bjarni murders a man for kicking, and Hugin, who follows him home from Dublin.
- Animal Motif:
- The Eagle of the Ninth: Esca Mac Cunoval – "I am the Centurion's hound, to lie at the Centurion's feet."
- The Silver Branch: Cullen, the hound of Curoi, who sleeps on the floor and wears a dog's tail.
- Warrior Scarlet: Drem fights a metaphorical dog fight to keep his dog out of an actual one.
- Knight's Fee: Randal, erstwhile kennel boy, who calls himself Herluin's and Sir Everard's dog
- The Hound of Ulster: Nobody uses Cú Chulainn's real name after he becomes the smith's watchdog, per the legends.
- Blood Feud: Jestyn, a "lone wolf" – "he had whistled me to heel like a hound; and like a hound I had followed."
- The Lantern Bearers: Aquila is likewise nicknamed "lone wolf"
- Frontier Wolf: The Frontier Scouts, who wear wolfskins, call themselves a pack and wolves their "four-footed brothers".
- Saxons are invariably "the Sea Wolves"
- Capital Letters Are Magic
- Celtic Mythology: Most of Sutcliff's fiction is set in the British Isles and Ireland, in a period when most of the population is Celtic. She wrote two volumes of Celtic legends, and referenced elements of Celtic mythology in many of her novels.
- The Hound of Ulster: retells the life of Cú Chulainn, including the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
- The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool: retells the life of Fionn Mac Cumhail, including the Exile of the Sons of Uisnech.
- The Shining Company is based on the semi-historical Welsh epic Y Gododdin.
- In The Queen Elizabeth Story, an Irish great-aunt retells "The Children of Lir".
- The Washer at the Ford, a forerunner of death, appears (or is thought to appear) in The Hound of Ulster, Song for a Dark Queen, Frontier Wolf, and Bonnie Dundee, and is perhaps alluded to in Flowering Dagger and The Changeling.
- The Roman and Viking heroes of Frontier Wolf and Sword Song are familiar with Cuchulainn, and the Viking also hears about Fionoula and Iseult.
- Childhood Friend Romance: Romance is not a prominent element in most of Sutcliff's stories, so if anyone does get together, it's probably two longtime platonic friends, and it's probably via Last Minute Hookup.
- The Queen Elizabeth Story: Perdita and her brother's best friend
- The Armourer's House: Tamsyn and her cousin Piers make a Childhood Marriage Promise to be merchant adventurers together.
- Simon: Simon and Susanna; Amias and Simon's sister Mouse
- The Eagle of the Ninth: Marcus and Cottia, who is All Grown Up.
- The Shield Ring: Frytha and Bjorn, Platonic Life Partners since age six.
- Warrior Scarlet: Drem and Blai, his not-quite adopted sister.
- Knight's Fee: Randall and Gisella
- Dawn Wind: Owain and Regina
- Sword at Sunset: Gault and Levin, previously Heterosexual Life-Partners
- Bonnie Dundee: Hugh and Darklis
- Flame-Coloured Taffeta: Damaris and Peter
- The Shining Company: Conn and Luned
- Conflicting Loyalties: Perhaps the most characteristic conflict in Sutcliff's work, probably most often To Be Lawful or Good, between duty and personal loyalties, or between two cultures to which a character belongs.
- Culture Clash: Individuals connecting across cultural barriers is Sutcliff's bread and butter.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The colonization of Roman Britain (or Norman England) and the crumbling of the Roman Empire evoke The British Empire, particularly The Raj, to the point of anachronism. Most of these novels were written during the dismantling of the British Empire and following in the footsteps of Rudyard Kipling.
- The looming threat of the Saxon invasions and the imminent Dark Ages also evokes the Battle of Britain, which Sutcliff lived through in her early twenties.
- End of an Age: The decline and fall of the Roman Empire in Britain, with the Dark Ages in the role of After the End.
- Failure Is the Only Option: For the Celts against the Romans; the Britons against the Saxons; and the Saxons against the Normans. Versus history, basically.
- Gray and Grey Morality: Despite frequently using light versus dark as shorthand for Order Versus Chaos, most stories acknowledge that the protagonists and antagonists are just people with opposing goals or incompatible worldviews, and the cultural perspective shifts from Roman to Celt to Saxon to Viking to Norman from book to book.
- The Great Wall: Hadrian's Wall ("the Wall") and the Antonine Wall ("the Northern Wall") hold off the Picts and allow the Romans to monitor traffic between Roman Britain and the semi-lawless territory of Valentia. In narrative terms, many a Sutcliff protagonist crosses the Wall to have adventures beyond the pale, and the Wall is a refuge/plot goal that they must reach or prevent someone else from reaching.
- Human Sacrifice: A common thematic and plot point in pagan settings, often as a form of Heroic Sacrifice associated with kingship (an idea borrowed from Sir James Frazer's influential The Golden Bough.)
- The Changeling: Tethra was saved from ritual infanticide by being switched with Murna's son.
- Flowering Dagger: Brychan was conceived for the purpose of ritual infanticide.
- The Flowers of Adonis: Alkibiades who (allegedly) sacrifices himself for Athens is identified with Adonis, a fertility god who symbolically dies every year.
- The Mark of the Horse Lord: the Horse Lords are expected to commit some form of Heroic Suicide if hard times require a Human Sacrifice.
- Sword at Sunset: Ditto the High King Ambrosius's death
- Dawn Wind: Ditto the Saxon kings in former times
- Knight's Fee: The unexplained death of William II in the New Forest is suggested to have been ditto.
- The Chief's Daughter: Nessan tags in for the friend who's supposed to be the victim, because she's the king('s daughter)
- Sun Horse, Moon Horse: The horse has to be dedicated with a sacrifice. Of the guy who is sort of king.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: If it's not the central relationship of the book, the protagonist probably has one in the background. (Inevitably leads to Ho Yay - deliberate in Sword at Sunset; presumably conscious in YA novels like The Mark of the Horse Lord.)
- Simon: Simon and Amias are are symbolised by a pair of sabres and compared to David and Jonathan.
- The Eagle of the Ninth: Marcus and Esca, whose eyes met across a crowded gladiatorial arena.
- The Silver Branch: Justin and Flavius, long-lost cousins.
- Warrior Scarlet: Drem and Vortrix
- The Bridge-Builders: Androphon and Cador
- Knight's Fee: Randal and Bevis, a squire and knight.
- Sword at Sunset: Artos and Bedwyr
- Blood Feud: Jestyn and Thormod, blood-brothers, compared to Achilles and Patroclus.
- Sun Horse, Moon Horse: Lubrin and Dara
- Blood and Sand: Historical Domain Characters Thomas Keith and Tussun Bey
- The Shining Company: Prosper and Conn
- We Lived in Drumfyvie: Eckie Brock and Donal Dhu
- Frontier Wolf: Alexios and Cunorix
- A Crown of Wild Olive: Amyntas and Leon
- Historical Domain Characters: Usually limited to cameos, but several novels are based on the lives of real (or allegedly real) people.
- Lady in Waiting: Sir Walter Raleigh
- The Rider of the White Horse: Sir Thomas Fairfax
- Sword at Sunset: Artos
- The Flowers of Adonis: Alcibiades
- Song for a Dark Queen: Boudicca
- Bonnie Dundee: John Graham of Claverhouse
- Blood and Sand: Thomas Keith
- History Marches On: Not all of her research has held up against later discoveries and interpretations - most egregiously, the Ninth Legion might or might not have been lost.
- King Arthur: Sutcliff wrote four volumes of Arthurian legends, as well as making him a real person in her historical continuity, who is nostalgically invoked by characters of later ages.
- Tristan and Iseult
- The Sword and the Circle: Excalibur and the Round Table
- The Light Beyond the Forest: the quest for the Holy Grail
- The Road to Camlann
- The Lantern Bearers: the young Artos appears as a secondary character.
- Sword at Sunset: the adult Artos unites Britain against the Saxons.
- The Shining Company: Artos's unified Britain has broken into smaller kingdoms.
- Dawn Wind: Artos's last successors are defeated by the Saxons.
- Made a Slave: Happens with some regularity to her protagonists or their sidekicks.
- The Eagle of the Ninth: Esca
- Outcast: Beric, Jason
- The Mark of the Horse Lord: Midir
- Blood Feud: Jestyn
- The Shining Company: Conn
- The Flowers of Adonis: Timandra; the entire (surviving) Sicilian expedition
- Sun Horse, Moon Horse: the entire (surviving) Epidi tribe
- The Lantern Bearers: Aquila, in Jutland.
- Dawn Wind: Both Owain and Regina in separate Saxon households.
- Sword Song: Muirgoed and her son Erp Mac Meldin were royalty, enslaved by Jarl Sigurd.
- The Medic: One of the professions Sutcliff was most interested in, along with soldiers and artists. Several of her protagonists are medics, though usually the Combat Medic:
- The Silver Branch: Justin the Roman army surgeon
- A Circlet of Oak Leaves: Aracos is a Roman army orderly
- The Witch's Brat: Lovel is an infirmarian monk
- Blood Feud: Jestyn is a cow-doctor who becomes a physician
- Mixed Ancestry: As Britain is made of intermingled peoples, so too are Sutcliff's protagonists. (Alternatively, they might be adopted, giving them a mixed cultural heritage.) Rarely does anyone let them forget it.
- Outcast: Beric is of indeterminate Roman and British ancestry, raised by Britons and then by Romans; each side considers him to be the other.
- The Shield Ring: Bjorn is a Norseman with a Romano-Welsh ancestress.
- The Silver Branch: Carausius is Romano-Hibernian; his Irish name is Curoi. The Flavius family are naturalised Romano-British.
- Warrior Scarlet: Blai's mother was Irish, and there are people of mixed parentage among the Half People.
- The Lantern Bearers: Flavia's son Mull is a Saxon who looks Roman like her, while Aquila's son Minnow is half-Welsh.
- Sword at Sunset: Artos is half-Romano-British, half-Celtic, which is one of the reasons he's able to unite the two peoples.
- Knight's Fee: Randal is the son of a Saxon soldier and a Norman lady.
- The Mark of the Horse Lord: Phaedrus is the son of a Greek merchant and his British slavewoman, while Liadhan is the daughter of a Dalriad king and a Caledone princess.
- The Changeling: The title character is an indigenous Little Dark Person raised in a Celtic tribe.
- Blood Feud: Jestyn Englishman is the son of a Celtic father and an Anglo-Saxon mother.
- Bonnie Dundee: Darklis Ruthven is the descendant of a Scottish noblewoman and a Romani king.
- Dawn Wind: Uncle Widreth is the illegitimate son of a Saxon father and a British mother. He likes to claim she was a selkie.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Sutcliff was both a painter and a writer. Though not nearly as numerous as soldier characters, several of her protagonists or narrators are The Storyteller or an artist.
- Narrative Filigree
- Nominal Importance: Averted.
- Officer and a Gentleman: Most of Sutcliff's heroes are their culture's equivalent, be it Roman army officers, chieftains' sons, or English knights. This is unsurprising, as Sutcliff's father was an officer and she grew up on Royal Navy bases (what is perhaps surprising is that she never wrote about Wooden Ships and Iron Men).
- One Steve Limit: Aversion. Though there's generally only one per work, characters' names are among the many elements Sutcliff liked recycling. There are, for instance, at least eight major and minor characters named "Cordaella".
- Order Versus Chaos: Romans and Roman Britons representing order and the Celts and Saxons representing chaos. Since the Sympathetic P.O.V. is usually on the Romans, order is generally seen as a good thing, but they're also shown to be at fault for inflexibility in dealing with their Celtic subjects.
- Our Fairies Are Different: The Little Dark People are demythtified aboriginal Britons in her Historical Fiction. The Sidhe appear in her myth retellings like The Hound of Ulster and The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool.
- Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Truth in Television compels some aristocratic characters into Arranged Marriage, but it inevitably turns out all right for them, after perhaps a little Belligerent Sexual Tension. Truly unpalatable matches always end up prevented.
- The Shield Ring: Gille to Gerd
- Outcast: Lucilla
- The Lantern Bearers: Aquila to Ness
- The Rider of the White Horse: Anne to Thomas
- Knight's Fee: Philip de Braose to Aanor
- Sword at Sunset: Artos to Guenhumara
- The Mark of the Horse Lord: Phaedrus to Murna
- Song for a Dark Queen: Boudicca to Prasutagus
- Sword Song: Aud to Olaf the White, Aesa to Onund Tree-foot, Groa to Dungadr
- People Of Hair Colour: Romans, Picts, and Little Dark People are (you guessed it) mostly dark, while Celts, Saxons, and Norsemen are fair, and characters of Mixed Ancestry tend to look tellingly like the side of their parentage they identify less with.
- Proud Warrior Race: Celts, Romans, Irish, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Scots. . . all of them, in fact.
- The Queen's Latin: There are no accents in text, but Roman characters clearly speak British English... in contrast to British characters.
- Red-Headed Hero:
- Rudyard Kipling: Sutcliff reused several of the settings visited in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill and its sequel Rewards and Fairies (in which two children are told stories of England's past by various ghosts) in her novels, and directly lifted several of his turns of phrase. She also wrote a monograph about his writing for children (condensed version here.)
- Marcus Flavius Aquila of The Eagle of the Ninth was directly inspired by Parnesius, the similarly bushy-browed young Romano-British officer of auxiliaries from Puck of Pook's Hill.
- The Dacian Cavalry, who appear in The Eagle of the Ninth, The Capricorn Bracelet, A Circlet of Oak Leaves and Swallows in the Spring, was not a historical unit. It's the outfit Parnesius wanted to join in "A Centurion of the Thirtieth".
- Parnesius and Pertinax's participation in the cult of Mithras, which Kipling treats like his beloved Freemasonry, is probably the reason why Marcus, Flavius, Alexios, and Ambrosius are Mithrans.
- "The Men's Side" and "the Women's Side", which appear in all Sutcliff's British tribes, are inspired by "The Knife and the Naked Chalk"'s accompanying verse, "Song of the Men's Side".
- "Seisin", a ritual dedication that appears in Brother Dusty-Feet and Knight's Fee, is performed by the children in Puck.
- The phrase "a singing magic", used by Flavia and Aquila in The Lantern Bearers and Ia in The Changeling, is taken from "The Cat Who Walked By Himself" in the Just So Stories.
- Jestyn's rowing song ("A long pull for Miklagard!") in Blood Feud is inspired by "Thorkild's Song" ("A long pull for Stavanger!") in Puck.
- Sutcliff's The Bridge-Builders, in which no literal bridges are built, is presumably named in tribute to Kipling's The Bridge-Builders, in which one is.
- Satellite Love Interest: To a degree. Female love interests are rounded characters, but their story function is to be the hero's female friend – they seldom have direct involvement in the main events of the plot or connections to the main characters other than the hero. This is not the case for male love interests of Sutcliff's (few) female point-of-view characters.
- Simon: Simon meets Susanna Killigrew for a single chapter. She doesn't come into contact with the rest of the cast until the epilogue.
- The Eagle of the Ninth: Marcus literally forgets about Cottia while he's off on his quest, and she is completely absent from The Film of the Book.
- The Lantern Bearers: Ness is a critical part of Aquila's Character Development, but has no scenes with other main characters.
- Knight's Fee: Gisella appears in three scenes and interacts only with Randal.
- Dawn Wind: Regina is off-screen for most of the book and interacts only with Owain.
- Sword at Sunset: Guenhumara is a vital component of Triang Relations, but not of the rest of the plot and seldom interacts with anyone but her love interests.
- Blood Feud: Alexia has no involvement in the A-plot and interacts primarily with Jestyn.
- Blood and Sand: While the rest of the cast are based on real people, Thomas's wife Anoud was invented as a Standard Hero Reward.
- The Shining Company: Princess Niamh's role in the story is to have an unrequited crush on Cynan Mac Clydno.
- Sword Song: The other plot arcs are based on real people and events, but Angharad's arc is invented to introduce a love interest for Bjarni.
- Scenery Porn: Prone to Description Porn of all kinds, especially in her most Slice of Life stories, but Scenery Porn is most abundant. Usually involves British Weather. Consider a typical description of Scotland in late winter:
"They mounted the waiting ponies, and with hounds loping on in front, headed down the steep slope to the river crossing, where the black stone that the troops called the Lady stood in the sere winter grass beside the ford. They splashed across it and headed on up the estuary, past the faint track that Alexios had ridden with the old Commander on their courtesy visit to the Lord of Six Hundred Spears, and still on towards the ruins of Credigone and the eastern end of the old Northern Wall. Presently they turned inland, with no track to follow this time, leaving the narrowing estuary with its gulls and its crying and calling shore-birds behind them, and heading up a side glen where alder and hazel crowded the banks of a small fast burn. The burn was coming down in spate, running green with melting snow-water from the high moors, so that they must follow the bank a good way before they could come to a good crossing-place; but between the darkly sodden wreck of last year's bracken and the soft grey drift of the sky, the catkins were lengthening on the hazel bushes, making a kind of faint sunlight of their own, and in one especially sheltered place, as the two young men brushed past, the first pollen scattered from the whippy sprays so that they rode through a sudden golden mist. Even here at the world's end, spring was remembering the way back, and for a moment a sense of quickening caught almost painfully at Alexios somewhere below the breastbone." – Frontier Wolf
, ch. 5
- Shown Their Work: Most of her stories are situated quite precisely in time and geography, though this is usually indicated via Cryptic Background Reference in her work for children. Her five adult novels are much more explicit about "kings, dates, and battles" (sometimes at the expense of character and plot, which may explain why they're generally less beloved.)
- Supporting Protagonists: Heterosexual Life Partnerships are often seen from the perspective of the less dynamic (and/or socially inferior) of the pair. Historical Domain Characters are almost invariably presented through a Supporting Protagonist.
- Subordinate Excuse
- Trying Not to Cry: Men Don't Cry, and neither do women or children if they have any self-respect.
- Turbulent Priest: There's a palpable aversion to religious fanaticism in many of Sutcliff books. Though there are as many good religious figures as not, the inimical ones are, unsurprisingly, more likely to affect the plot.
- Simon: Though the Puritans are on the hero's side of the English Civil War, the extremely pious Zeal-for-the-Lord Relf uses scripture as an excuse for his private vendetta, and the ascetic Mistress Killigrew has rather crushed her daughter Susanna.
- The Eagle of the Ninth: A wandering druid stirs up the tribal revolt at Isca Dumnoniorum.
- Outcast: The village druid objects to the adoption of a Roman foundling because the Romans destroyed the druids.
- Warrior Scarlet: The druid Midir, though eccentric, is highly respected and instrumental in reestablishing Drem in his tribe.
- The Lantern Bearers: Brother Ninnias, a monk, helps Aquila on his escape and the rescue of his nephew, and helps him put his emotional problems into perspective.
- Dawn Wind: The defeated Britons cling stubbornly to their Christian faith, unbeknownst to St. Augustine of Canterbury, the rather arrogant apostle to the Anglo-Saxons.
- Sword at Sunset: Artos clashes with the landowning Church, who object to paying him to defend God (partly because they're already supporting the local people.) The Archbishop, however, is instrumental in appointing Artos leader of the Britons.
- The Fugitives: Lucius makes a personal sacrifice to put the fugitive's fate in the hands of the gods.
- The Chief's Daughter: The priest, though he initially requires a Human Sacrifice, reinterprets the signs so that Nessam doesn't have to die.
- The Truce of the Games: Amyntas solves his moral dilemma by remembering his duty to the gods.
- The Witch's Brat: Lovel becomes an infirmarian brother of the order that took him in as an orphan.
- We Lived in Drumfyvie: One Drumfyvie priest faces down the Sheriff to plead for a condemned prisoner; another nurses his flock through the plague; another loses his ministry for refusing to impose the Anglican ritual on his Presbyterian parishoners.
- Shifting Sands: The despotic priest-king uses supernatural threats to keep the village in line.
- Song for a Dark Queen: Boudicca's druid advisors encourage her to reject an alliance with the Catuvellauni out of revenge.
- Frontier Wolf: Morvidd the druid encourages the Votadini to rebel against the Romans.
- Bonnie Dundee: The Scottish Covenanters are a fanatical insurgency against King James, who unhesitatingly kill defenseless soldiers and perceived collaborators. Dundee himself, however, marries into a Covenanter family.
- Sword Song: Bjarni kills an arrogant Christian missionary who kicks his dog. He also runs afoul of a priest of Thor whose daughter has a grudge against him. He later works for the Christian Aud the Deep-Minded and meets his pagan chief's Christian foster-brother, and accepts prime-signing out of respect for them. Aud ends a blood feud by refusing to exact further revenge on her son's killers.
- The Verse: Despite a dearth of direct sequels, Word of God has it that "it is all part of the same series, really", as borne out by consistent world-building and a few recurring details.
- The Dolphin Ring: The Flavius family's signet ring, a dolphin on a flawed emerald, is passed down through The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, Frontier Wolf, The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, Dawn Wind, Sword Song, and The Shield Ring.
- Artos, or King Arthur, in The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, Dawn Wind, and The Shining Company.
- Frontier Wolves in The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Capricorn Bracelet, Frontier Wolf, and The Shining Company.
- A song called "The Girl I Kissed At Clusium" in The Eagle of the Ninth, A Circlet of Oak Leaves, and Eagle's Egg.
- Knight's Fee takes place in the same valley as Warrior Scarlet, featuring the Hill of Gathering. Lewin the shepherd's left-handed flint hand-axe is implied to have belonged to one-handed Drem.
- Vestigial Empire: Britain, where most of her books are set, is of course cut loose from the crumbling Western Roman Empire and its inhabitants left to fend for themselves. The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, The Shining Company, and Dawn Wind are set in the immediately post-Roman period, but even 400 years later the Viking protagonist of Sword Song can recognise Roman ruins.
- Undying Loyalty
Shifting Sands (short story)
Orkney, 2000-1000 BCE. A twelve-year-old girl is promised to the tyrannical chief
of her prehistoric village, who proposes to sacrifice
the boy she prefers
to the gods who protect the great sand dune on which the village sits
- Chekhov's Gift: The hairpin Long Axe gives to Moon Eye is the only weapon allowed into the sacrificial gathering.
- Full Boar Action: Singing Dog attracts Long Axe's notice when he disputes the credit for killing a ferocious sow. Unfortunately for his survival prospects, this is regarded as tantamount to Challenging the Chief.
- Rescue Romance: Blue Feather and Singing Dog get together when she hurts her foot on the beach.
- A Storm Is Coming: It's a foregone conclusion to the reader, but Moon Eye warns Long Axe about the rising winds. Unfortunately, Long Axe practices Head-in-the-Sand Management.
Britain, 900 BCE. Drem
must pass a warrior initiation ceremony
with an atrophied right arm
, or be cast out
of his tribe to live among the people they conquered
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Two chapters are devoted to the accession of the king of the tribe, who is never given a name or heard from before or afterward.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Drem accidentally wins Blai's Undying Loyalty by showing her some when her father rejects her. Later, however, she hesitates to marry him because she thinks he's merely being kind.
- Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Drem kills three wolves defending a mortally-injured shepherd and the labouring ewe they were searching for. At the Feast of the New Spears, each boy ritually "dies" and is "reborn" as a man.
- Canine Companion: Drem's mentor Talore sets Drem his first test – bringing down a bird with a throw-spear – with the promised reward of a fine half-wolf hound puppy (a gross overpayment) whom Drem names Whitethroat. Drem volunteers for a duel at the king's coronation in order to save Whitethroat from a dog-fight, and Whitethroat in turn brings down one of the wolves who attack Drem in the quarry.
- Character Development
- Coming of Age Story: Drem spends half his life preparing for the Rite of Passage that he fails, then spends the next year as a shepherd learning skills he hadn't trained for as a warrior, like "patience" and "compassion".
- Cool Old Guy: Doli the senior shepherd, who doesn't give a shit that Drem is one of the Golden People.
- The Determinator: Drem compensates for his disability by sheer force of personality.
- Disappeared Dad: Blai's travelling blacksmith dad, who left her behind in Drem's village after her mother's Death by Childbirth. Blai constantly tells the other children that he'll come back for her someday and is mocked for it. After he makes his disappointing return, she denies that he is her real father.
- Duel to the Death: At the king's coronation, Drem's chieftain Dumnorix quarrels with another chief over the iron dagger and demands satisfaction in a duel. The new king de-escalates this into a dog-fight, and selects Whitethroat as one of Dumnorix's team. Drem, knowing Whitethroat would die in a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, volunteers himself for a knife-fight instead. He fights his opponent to first blood, when the king Takes a Third Option and confiscates the dagger as a coronation present.
- Grumpy Old Man: Drem and Drustic's grandfather, the Grandfather, an old warrior who fancies himself a Badass Grandpa and figures Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!, who's outlived all his contemporaries and his sons.
- Handicapped Badass: Talore the Hunter, who lost his hand but still manages to hunt and fight like the rest of the Men's Side. He advises Drem on what he can and can't do as a one-armed warrior. And Drem himself, obviously.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Drem and his Blood Brother Vortrix, who cries in his arms when they're about to be separated forever.
- Hidden Depths: The point of the chapter "The Dagger and the Fire", in which pale, silent, but occasionally fierce Blai is juxtaposed with her father's iron dagger, a cold silvery metal that nonetheless strikes sparks.
- Last Minute Hookup: Lampshaded. Drem is Oblivious to Love until it suddenly dawns on him in the final scene of the book that he and Blai are Birds of a Feather and asks her to marry him roughly five seconds later.
- My Greatest Second Chance: Drem was supposed to kill a wolf within one day in order to pass his initiation, and no wolf he killed later in the usual course of guarding the sheep would ever count for it. But because he kills the very same wolf, Vortrix persuades the tribe that it had always been unfinished business.
- Necessary Fail: Drem is practically the masculine ideal for his culture in talents, personality, looks, social status – everything except his missing hand. The only thing that gives him the slightest insight and sympathy for those who don't have his inborn advantages – like Blai or the Half People – is the experience of losing his social position and living among them as an outcast. It doesn't necessarily make his life better, but it makes him a better person.
- Red-Headed Hero: Drem's a Fiery Redhead, but so are his entire family and many of his Tribe. Blai is visibly foreign because she's an Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette.
- The Resenter: Drem's prickly year-mate Luga carries a permanent grudge against Drem after Talore embarrasses Luga's father by giving Whitethroat to ten-year-old Drem instead of him. Drem eventually discovers that while Luga will always be a thorn in his side, he'll nevertheless close ranks with him against outsiders.
- Savage Wolves: The Men's side mounts the Wolf Guard of the sheep every winter, and each New Spear has to kill a wolf single-handed to join the Men's side. Drem screws it up, but he kills the same wolf a year later while guarding the sheep as one of the shepherds.
- Slave Race: The Half People, an underclass who live in a village higher up on the Downs, serve Drem's village as shepherds and other labourers, while the Golden People are a warrior caste. The only time the two mix are during certain yearly events like the winter Wolf Guard, the spring sheep-shearing, and the summer fertility feast. The Half People are the mixed descendants of the stone-using aboriginal Little Dark People and the copper-using "golden giants" who conquered them, who were in turn conquered and enslaved by the bronze-wielding Golden People – who will, inevitably, someday be conquered by someone carrying the new, magical metal called iron.
- Snow Means Death: Drem's battle against the wolves happens in the snow, after he and Doli follow a sheep into a snowstorm. Images of scarlet on white throughout the book, like the blood on the breast of his swan, foreshadow blood on the snow.
- Sorry Billy, But You Just Don't Have Legs: Drem was born with his undeveloped right arm (and boundless self-confidence), and doesn't realise that other people consider him handicapped until he overhears his grandfather complaining that he'll never wear the Warrior Scarlet.
- This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Zig-zagged. Each New Spear is required to kill his wolf unaided. When Drem slips, Vortrix stabs his wolf to keep it from killing him, which Drem isn't entirely grateful for. When Drem does kill the wolf a year later, Vortrix identifies it by the scar of his spear and uses it to convince the rest of the clan that Drem has passed his test.
Flowering Dagger (short story)
Bronze Age Britain. A chief's daughter and a hostage from another tribe
fall in love, before discovering an even more insurmountable obstacle.
- Fourth Date Marriage: After being distantly acquainted for more than a year, Saba and Brychan suddenly notice each other for the first time, then immediately acknowledge a powerful sense of connection. They pledge their devotion to each other and make plans to elope during their second conversation.
- Moses in the Bullrushes: Brychan was a Doorstop Baby. The titular dagger is his Orphan's Plot Trinket, which combined with his Distinguishing Mark leads to the revelation of his parentage.
- Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Subverted. Yes, they're from the same tribe after all. That's not all they're both from!
- Surprise Incest: Whoops.
- Together in Death: Good thing they've got this dagger handy.
- Foreshadowing: Pervasive. Aside from the characters' conscious hints in dialogue, we have:
- The first paragraphs describe what the scene doesn't yet look like so early in the year, with full growth and beauty still to come, just as Saba and Brychan aren't yet mature (and never will be.)
- Cuckoos aren't just a sign of spring
- The women washing at a ford in the first scene is probably another of Sutcliff's references to the Washer at the Ford, a harbinger of death from Celtic Mythology.
- The observation that Cordaella's husband was of the correct degree of kinship to marry, and that Saba is more free to choose, is ironic. Cordaella and Garim's sibling interaction is a marked contrast to Saba and Brychan in the same scene.
- The death of the bee by the sting that's compared to the dagger, the superstitious associations of the elder flower the bee is sitting on, and Saba's remark that she doesn't care if Brychan hurts her removing the sting.
- The observation that Brychan's parents' relationship didn't get enough time for "flowering and fruiting", just as his won't.
- The symbolism of flowering dagger, whose blade holds both life (the flower design) and death, and which is both beautiful and fatal, like Saba and Brychan's love for each other.
The Chief's Daughter (short story)
Bronze Age Wales. Nessan frees
a prisoner intended for human sacrifice
to take his place.
- The Chief's Daughter: Averted; the protagonist is the chief's daughter. And she's ten.
- Cargo Cult: Nessan's people worship a standing stone called the Black Mother. The negotiation of sacred debt that causes the characters so much mental agony is all done in the name of a rock.
- Equivalent Exchange: Nessan initially saved Dara from Human Sacrifice by offering a glass bracelet to the Black Mother. When the stream dries up and the priest decides they need to sacrifice him after all, she engineers his escape knowing that someone will have to take his place. His guard knows he'll have to take the fall, until Nessan volunteers in his place. When Dara comes upon the Black Mother and finds a spear left as an offering, he takes it in exchange for all his food, inadvertently undamming the stream. When the water returns, the priest concludes that Nessan's willingness to die was an acceptable sacrifice.
- Ridiculously Difficult Route: Nessan sends Dara down the cliff face that's usually covered by the water of the stream.
Sun Horse, Moon Horse
100 BCE. Lubrin Dhu, the Iceni chief's Black Sheep
artist son, finds himself the spokesman of his clan
when they are conquered by the Attribates. He ransoms his Slave Race
with the design and construction of a great boundary marker and his own Heroic Sacrifice
- Because Destiny Says So: As Lubrin puts it, "it is the pattern of things."
- Friendly Enemy: Lubrin and Cradock might have been friends, if Cradock hadn't conquered his tribe and enslaved him.
- Human Sacrifice: The White Horse must be dedicated with a death, and a chieftain must die for the good of his people.
- Landmark of Lore: The Iceni's building project is the famous prehistoric chalk drawing the White Horse of Uffington.
- Matriarchy: Almost. The patriarchal Attribates assume Lubrin, the chief's surviving son, is the new chief of the Iceni. They're actually matrilineal, so the rightful leader is his sister's husband Dara.
- Solar and Lunar: The Iceni worship a moon goddess and the Atribates a sun god. The White Horse secretly symbolises both.
- White Stallion: What the White Horse was supposed to be. Cradock remarks after it's finished that he may not be an artist, but he can recognise a mare when he sees one.
The Changeling (short story)
Prehistoric Argyll. Tethra, a changeling child
adopted by the chief of the Epidi, is driven out to rejoin the Little Dark People. When his father is mortally wounded, he must choose between his two tribes.
The Flowers of Adonis (adult novel)Greece, 415-404 BCE
. The rise and fall (and rise and fall and rise and fall) of Alkibiades, the notorious Athenian politician - and of Athens - through the eyes of his companions as he sets out on the Sicilian Expedition, reignites The Peloponnesian War
, seduces the queen of Sparta, escapes to the Persians, is welcomed back with open arms by the Athenians, and then loses it all again.
- Historical-Domain Character: Alkibiades; Antiochus; Timandra (loosely); Timea; Agis; Endius; Pharnobazus; Socrates; many others.
- Supporting Protagonist: At least eleven, including one from beyond the grave: the Citizen, the Soldier, the Seaman, the Dead, the Priest, the Queen, the King, the Spartan, the Rower, the Whore, the Satrap.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Sympathetic character = forgives Alkibiades anything.
- But Not Too Gay: Alkibiades is said by Antiochus to be strictly a ladies' man, though he was noted for his beauty in a society where bisexuality was normal (this is consistent with Plutarch's remark that he spurned all his admirers but Socrates.) Arcadius ("The Soldier") falls in love with a comrade who dies before they can do anything about it, and then is never interested in another man.
The Truce of the Games / A Crown of Wild Olive (short story)
Greece, 412 BCE. A young Athenian runner befriends
his Spartan competitor
at the Olympic Games
in the middle of The Peloponnesian War
- To Be Lawful or Good: Amyntas is torn between his duty to represent his city and honour the gods, and his feeling that No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction after Leon is injured.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: It's The Spartan Way. Leon refuses to acknowledge to Amyntas that his injury might affect his performance. Leon is trying to validate the race for Amyntas, as Amyntas did for him by competing in earnest.
- Suck Out the Poison: In a gratuitous, poison-free example, Amyntas washes the dirt out of Leon's cut foot, then sucks it just to be sure.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: After the Olympic truce expires, Athens and Sparta will resume their war and Amyntas and Leon will return home and enter opposing armies. There is no third option, and they have no realistic hope of meeting again without bitterness.
Song for a Dark Queen
20s-61 CE. Boudicca, young queen of the Iceni, eventually makes her peace with her bitterly-resented requirement of a male chieftain and a political marriage
. But when the Roman authorities plan to annex her entire kingdom, she leads the British tribes in a bloody uprising
- Anti-Hero: She killed seventy or eighty thousand people, most of them civilians, in real life.
- Based on a True Story
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Boudicca is the only belligerent, because Prasutagus is a patient Dogged Nice Guy.
- Defiled Forever: The Princesses Essylt and Nessan are part of the line of sacred and untouchable priest-queens, so when there's a danger of the tribe perceiving them this way after they're raped (off-screen) by the Romans, their mother Boudicca stamps down hard. The tactless young warriors who try to take liberties with them narrowly escape Human Sacrifice.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Iceni have uncongenial attitudes to murder. Killing someone completely harmless without making them suffer too much or mounting a Worthy Opponent's head on a stick are noted as gestures of mercy and respect. In the most marked example, Boudicca kills some Roman women in a way that even the narrator finds unspeakable, then is horrified. . . that she might have profaned the ritual because she got some political gain out of it.
- Divided We Fall: The Iceni and other surrounding tribes choose not to support the Catuvellauni, the powerful tribe embattled by the Romans, because they've already suffered the Catuvellauni's expansionist policy. It turns out The Roman Empire is worse than the devil you know.
- Elective Monarchy: The Iceni head of state is the hereditary Queen, but her husband the King is chosen for her by her parents' Council of chieftains and priests (all of whom seem to be men).
- Epistolary Novel: Partially – starting about halfway through the novel, the chapters are ended by letters written by Gnaeus Julius Agricola to his mother, explaining events from the Roman perspective. The main body of the text is narrated off the cuff by the Iceni's official historian, Cadwan of the Harp, as he lies dying under a tree at the end of the story.
- Heir Club for Men: Inverted. Prasutagus won't come into his full power as King until he provides the Queen with a female heir, another reason to be frustrated that Boudicca is having none of him.
- Historical-Domain Character: Boudicca, Prasutagus, their daughters; Caratacus; Agricola, Suetonius Paulinus, Claudius, and other Roman officials and officers.
- Human Sacrifice: Boudicca has the captured women of Camulodunum sacrificed to her mother goddess in some manner too brutal for the narrator to describe. She's also interrupted in sacrificing a couple of presumptuous young warriors who hit on her daughters.
- Incurable Cough of Death: The first sign of Prasutagus's heart defect and the fever that kills him.
- Rape as Drama: Boudicca's teenage daughters are raped by the Romans as punishment for the death of a Roman who harassed them, while Boudicca is given A Taste of the Lash. The incident is part of the Roman traditions about Boudicca's motivations for the uprising.
- Rescue Romance: Boudicca rejects Prasutagus until he nearly dies protecting her during a stampede, whereupon she suffers a Love Epiphany and nurses him back to health, and it turns out they have a Perfectly Arranged Marriage after all.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In return for Roman offenses, Boudicca reduced Camulodunum, Verulamium and Londinium to smoking ruins, before Suetonius delivered a No Holds Barred Beat Down.
- Supporting Protagonist: The two narrators, a bard with an avuncular relationship to Boudicca who reveals virtually nothing about himself otherwise, and a Roman observer who doesn't affect the plot in any way.
- Tagalong Chronicler: The narrator Cadwan of the Harp has the useful function of following the protagonist Boudicca around on campaign as her official historian, but also of witnessing moments with Prasutagus and Nessan that Boudicca isn't present for. Other than serving as a camera, he is self-effacing.
- This Is My Side: Boudicca divides her marriage-bed. The line is her drawn sword. Prasutagus has no intention of forcing her to do anything, so this state of affairs continues for months.
- Young Future Famous People: Agricola, later the Governor and conqueror of the farthest extent of Roman Britain, happens to have also been around during the Boudiccan Revolt, but not doing too much and free to narrate some of the novel for us.
The Capricorn Bracelet
Six short stories of a Romano-British family, linked by an heirloom military decoration, from the Boudiccan Rebellion to the end of the Roman occupation.
Eagle's Egg (short story)
80-83 CE. Quintus, a standard-bearer, can't marry Cordaella without a promotion to Centurion, but it will take Agricola's three-year Caledonian campaign, a mutiny, and the battle of Mons Graupius to get it.
The Bridge-Builders (short story)
Androphon, the son of a fort commander on the western border of Roman Britain, is held hostage by Britons during a territorial dispute.
- I Have Your Son: Kyndylan the Chief plans to use Androphon as leverage for persuading the Commander to abandon the construction of the signal tower.
- She Will Come for Me: Androphon threatens Kyndylan with his father's Disproportionate Retribution, but he's bluffing, as the Romans don't know where Kyndylan's village is, and Kyndylan is planning to move him somewhere better hidden anyway.
- Shame If Something Happened: The story is bookended by two indirectly threatening conversations. Kyndylan claims that his hotheaded young warriors will be upset by the building of a signal tower in the tribe's lands, leading the Commander to predict a series of fatal accidents during the construction. Then Androphon pointedly doesn't accuse his "host" of kidnapping him, so that the Commander can spare the British village and Kyndylan can cooperate in return.
Has its own tropes page.126-9 CE. Marcus
and Esca search Caledonia for the eagle standard of the lost Ninth Legion
"Swallows in the Spring" (short story)
Circa 130 CE. A survivor of the Ninth Legion returns to Eburacum.
- Lost Roman Legion: The vanished Ninth Legion casts a long shadow over their replacements the Sixth Victrix, even a dozen years after their disappearance. No one knows whether they were really destroyed, or worse, deserted.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Fulvius, who was left behind by the Ninth and then kept in the same fort as part of the Sixth; Stripey; and to some extent the narrator, Dexius, who claims that a lifetime in the frontier garrisons would drive anyone mad.
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: Stripey was one of Fulvius's men from the Ninth Legion, but he's so covered in Pict tattoos he's unrecognisable, and so traumatised that he can't tell anyone.
150s CE. Beric, a Roman foundling
, is cast out of his adoptive British tribe and enslaved
- Because You Were Nice to Me: After a few months as a slave, Beric just wants to recognised as a human being. He reverses his opinion of Lucilla after she's kind to him.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Beric eventually meets the Roman legate who indirectly got him and Jason beaten half to death, while working on the dyke. The legate naturally enough does not remember him.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Beric becomes best friends with Cathlan, at Cathlan's instigation, shortly after beating the crap out of him for teasing him about being Roman.
- The Engineer: Justinius, the Builder of Roads and Drainer of Marshes. Alternatively he has "a straight road for a son and a marsh for a wife."
- From Bad to Worse: Exiled? Stoned! Enslaved? Sold to the mines! Arrested? Sentenced to the galleys! Beaten? Tossed overboard and friend dies!
- Galley Slave: Beric spends two years in the army's Rhenus fleet, chained to a rowing bench alongside his oar-mate Jason.
- Handsome Devil: The beautiful, golden, charming Glaucus takes over ownership of Beric from his father in order to spite his sister Lucilla and persecute Beric for refusing to help him cheat his father over a horse. They tacitly loathe each other, and Glaucus forces Beric to use a slave name and plans to sell him to the mines.
- Hostile Weather: The novel is bookended by two great storms: the one that orphans Beric, and the one that threatens to destroy his adoptive father's engineering project, the dyke that protects Romney Marsh from the sea. There's also the one in the middle that indirectly kills Jason.
- Incurable Cough of Death: Beric's beloved oar-mate, Jason.
- Luke, I Might Be Your Father: Justinius takes an interest in Beric because he resembles his dead wife. Beric proudly disabuses him of the notion that he might be the long-lost kid and tries to slink off, but Justinius asks him to stay on as an adopted son anyway.
- One Last Job: Justinius is leaving Rome forever to complete the Rhee Wall in Britain and then retire there. His friends in Italy are appalled that he'll spend the rest of his life in such a forsaken backwater.
- A Taste of the Lash: Jason gets whipped for malingering after he collapses at his oar. Then he gets tossed overboard, so Beric attacks the overseer. Then Beric gets flogged and tossed overboard.
- Trauma Conga Line: Virtually every terrible thing than could happen to Beric happens: His parents die in a shipwreck, other children harass him for being Roman, his father's enemies make him a scapegoat and get him exiled, he is kidnapped and enslaved, bought by a venal master, given to a worse one with a grudge against him, helps his only friends leave him forever, gets caught and arrested as a bandit, is sent to be a Galley Slave, has his only friend die, gets beaten and thrown overboard, and finds out his rescuers hoped he was someone else. On the other hand, he never quite dies, either.
- Welcome to the Big City: The recently-burned-down Roman border town Beric arrives in is the biggest he's ever seen. He thinks the basilica is a private dwelling and gets suckered by a crew of Greek slave-traders.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Beric meets helpful friends in Isca Dumnoniorum: they enslave him. A kind young soldier wants to buy him: he can't afford it. Lucilla asks her father for Beric as a wedding present: Glaucus already asked for him. Beric meets Justinius: Glaucus decides to sell him to the mines. A farmer shelters him on his escape: the cops raid the place and arrest him. Beric's galley sails for Britain: Jason gets worked to death and Beric gets tossed overboard. Justinius's people shelter him: it's a case of mistaken identity. Everything works out in the end, though!
A Circlet of Oak Leaves (short story)
150s CE. Aracos, a medical orderly, turns a battle against British tribesmen while disguised as a standard bearer.
- Emergency Impersonation: Aracos takes the place of nearly-Identical Stranger Felix, a Shell-Shocked Veteran, so Felix won't be charged with desertion.
- Battle Amongst the Flames: The valour of the auxiliary cavalry is at issue in the tavern because they stampeded when the Picts fired the heather. Only the Dacian cavalry, which Aracos led, rode through the flames because they train their mounts to charge through fire in a trick riding display. Aracos collapses afterward from smoke inhalation.
- Scrap Heap Hero: Aracos, two or three times over – rejected from the cavalry for a heart defect, left to join the medical corps; invalided out of the army, ending up an obscure horse-breaker in Britain; and by the end of the story, believed to have lied about winning the Corona Civica by everyone in his local pub.
Has its own tropes page. 180s CE. Phaedrus, a freed gladiator, plays the role of lost heir
to the patriarchal Dalriads in their war of succession against the matriarchal Caledones.
"The Fugitives" (short story)
Lucian, an army officer's paralysed son, hides a deserter from the men sent to recapture him.
290s CE. Justin and Flavian stumble upon a conspiracy to assassinate
the emperor Carausius and join La Résistance
against the Saxon-allied usurper of Britain.
Has its own page. 340s CE. Alexios, a disgraced officer, is Reassigned to Antarctica
to command the irregular Frontier Scouts
in a precarious border outpost.
The Dark Ages
5th century CE. Aquila deserts from the departing legions and devotes his life to holding off the Saxons from Roman Britain.
Has its own page. 5th century. A generation after the withdrawal of Roman forces from Britain, King Arthur
struggles to unite Romano-Britons, Celtic tribes, and the elusive Little Dark People against the Saxon invasions.
585-597 CE. Owain, a Briton, becomes a Saxon thrall
and is drawn into the affairs of a Saxon family.
The Shining Company
595-600 CE. Prosper, a Welsh shieldbearer, recounts the mustering and destruction of the Gododdin host against the Saxons of Catraeth.
- All First Person Narrators Write Like Novelists: The Company's has a Tagalong Chronicler, Historical-Domain Character Aneirin the bard, who will eventually compose the elegiac poem Y Gododdin in its memory. It is therefore somewhat amusing that an anonymous shieldbearer like Prosper is apparently equally capable of writing a novel about it.
- Alliterative Family: Cynan, Cynran, and Cynri Mac Clydno, who originate in Welsh legend.
- An Ass Kicking Christmas: Mynyddog's second equipment-giving feast is at Midwinter. The Company and the Teulu, the king's bodyguard, fall to arguing about the Champion's portion of the roast and end up in a mead-fuelled brawl and nearly burn down Dyn Eidin.
- Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: Prosper and Cynan ride off into the sunrise to join the Emperor of Constantinople's Varangian Guard.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Aneirin and Prosper's account of the battle in the Hall in Dyn Eidin turns into calling Mynyddog to account for his failure to reinforce them.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Zig-zagged. Prosper accidentally shames a shieldbearer named Faelinn during a test, and Faelinn resents it until another test exposes the same weakness in Prosper to him. They fall together during the siege of Catraeth and become Cynan's replacement shieldbearers, and though still not exactly friends, they'd rather go into the Last Stand together than not.
- Divided We Fall: Mynyddog of the Gododdin is trying to unite a warhost of the kingdoms of the northwest, in the tradition of Artos, to check the expanding Saxon kingdom of Deira. His fellow rulers decline to send troops to his support, and the Shining Company is sacrificed in the hope of killing the dynamic king of Deira.
- Due to the Dead: The earlier dead are buried in mass graves, stripped of their precious equipment but left their personal ornaments. There's no one left to bury the last of the Company, but their memorial will be the song of Aneirin, Y Gododdin.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: Prosper and Cynan are the Sole Survivors of the Shining Company, and that's by accident.
- Fog of War: The ability to conjure a concealing fog is said to be an ability of druids, of which Aneirin is one. He actually manages to do it on the night of the Last Stand.
- Heroic Bastard: Ceredig the Fosterling, captain of the Teulu and the Company. Prosper speculates that Mynyddog may never have publicly acknowledged him as his son until sending him off on his Suicide Mission.
- It Has Been an Honor: Part of Ceredig the Fosterling's Rousing Speech.
- King Arthur: Artos (as seen in Sword at Sunset) is the optimistic precedent for the effectiveness of a Company of three hundred. The other precedent is the Spartans at Thermopylae. Y Gododdin happens to be the earliest record of Arthur.
- Last Stand: When two-thirds of the Company are dead and their reinforcements fail to materialise, the Fosterling decides on a Self Destructive Charge in the hopes of Taking You with Me, since they have no chance of escaping the encircling Saxons.
- Line in the Sand: The Fosterling offers everyone (still alive) the chance to Opt Out of the Self Destructive Charge, judgement-free. No one does, of course.
- The Marvelous Deer: Prosper, Conn, and Luned are the first to sight the white hart that they decide to protect from the prince Gorthyn's hunting. Gorthyn calls off the hunt himself on seeing the deer and thereby wins Prosper's loyalty and his services as shieldbearer.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Cynan is one part concussion, one part the deaths of his brothers, and one part betrayal.
- Shout-Out: Prosper and Co. spend their wakefulness test in the wolf-haunted ruins of Castellum in a Shout Out to Frontier Wolf. The various references to King Arthur are also specifically to Sword at Sunset.
- The Siege: The Company takes Catraeth to hold it in advance of the British war hosts' arrival. The Cavalry doesn't come, and they find themselves trapped in their ruined fortress.
- Single Girl Seeks Most Popular Guy: Ladies' man Cynan and his very devoted old friend, the Princess Niamh. He's too damaged to requite her, but he rides away wearing The Lady's Favour.
- The Storyteller: Aneirin, the poet of Y Gododdin, whose job it is to immortalise the Company in song.
- Suicide Mission: Mynyddog knows almost as soon as the Company has left that no help is coming from his neighbours and he can't afford to waste the rest of his war host rescuing them. He doesn't recall them, on the off chance that they might manage to kill the expansionist Saxon king. They have no idea.
- Two Guys and a Girl: Prosper's two childhood friends are his cousin Luned with whom he's Like Brother and Sister, and his bondservant Conn. Prosper thinks at one point that his father might marry him to Luned, but Conn and Luned are more attracted to each other, and in the end he sends Conn home as a free man to marry her if he can.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The novel is based on Y Gododdin, an elegiac poem allegedly written by an eyewitness of the battle, but since the major drama of the poem is that all the heroes die, the novel focuses on their unnamed supporters, the shieldbearers like Prosper.
- We Have Reserves: Subverted. Mynyddog is forced to cut his losses with the Shining Company precisely because, lacking reinforcements from his neighbours, he can't afford to commit the Gododdin host to bail them out and leave his territory defenseless.
9th century CE. Bjarni Sigurdson, a Norwegian Viking, is exiled from his British settlement for killing the man who kicked his dog and sells his sword as a mercenary, embroiling himself in the feuds of Viking earls from Dublin to the Orkneys.
985-990 CE. Jestyn, an English Christian, joins his Viking blood brother
on a pagan feud that takes them to the Byzantine Empire
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Hunting with tame cheetahs. It was a thing, apparently.
- Blood Brothers: Jestyn makes Thormod make them blood brothers so that Thormod won't leave him behind on his blood feud. This has the downside that Jestyn actually has to carry out Thormod's blood feud.
- Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: Jestyn, Thormod, Anders, and the rest of their crews are part of the founding of the Byzantine emperor's Varangian Guard.
- Combat Medic: Jestyn starts his career as a cow doctor, then becomes a Viking and a mercenary, then becomes a physician's orderly who's vowed to kill somebody.
- Conveniently an Orphan: Jestyn's parents die when he's a child, which makes the decision to follow Thormod to Denmark and settle in Byzantium simple. He says that his wife worries he's nostalgic for England, but he has no reason to ever return there.
- Cycle of Revenge: Thormod and Jestyn return home to find that Thormod's father has accidentally killed a neighbour, and his sons, Thormod's best friends, have duly killed him, and expect Thormod to hunt them down in Miklagard for a Duel to the Death. Jestyn's blood brotherhood with Thormod obligates him to carry on the feud, and the conflict with his beliefs as a Christian and a doctor is the ethical crux of the novel.
- Historical-Domain Character: Khan Vladimir of Kiev, Basil II and Anna of Byzantium
- Loophole Abuse: Though he's put off his Inconvenient Hippocratic Oath for just this moment, when Anders staggers to his door to assassinate him, Jestyn can't bring himself to murder a guy who's already dying of tuberculosis. He does his best to save him, but assures Anders that Thormod already killed him when he stabbed him in the lung and pushed him into the river – it just took longer than they thought it would.
- Mixed Ancestry: Jestyn Englishman has a Saxon mother and a wandering Celtic blacksmith father. Erland Silkbeard is an early Russian, half Scandinavian and half easterner.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: Blood Feud was adapted into a 1990 mini-series called The Sea Dragon, a British and Scandinavian co-production. The scenes in Greece and Russia were revised to take place in Scandinavia.
- Rescue Romance: When Jestyn meets Alexia, he doesn't just save her from a marauding cheetah, he proceeds to deliver her pet gazelle's fawn by caesarian section. She then takes him in off the street when he's out of a job.
- Platonically speaking, Thormod "rescued" Jestyn from the slave-market, and Jestyn "rescued" him from a tavern fight, which is why Thormod freed him.
- Shout-Out: Jestyn's rowing-song, with the chorus "A long pull for Miklagard!" is a riff on Rudyard Kipling's "Thorkild's Song" in Puck of Pook's Hill.
1090-1103 CE. Tomboy
Frytha and Warrior Poet
Bjorn defend the last hidden Norse stronghold against the Normans.
1094-1106 CE. Randall, a half-Saxon dog-boy, is raised as a squire by the Norman lords of a feudal manor.
- Animal Motifs: Randal grows up in a kennel and is frequently likened to a hound himself, including by himself.
Herluin: He has lived so long with hounds that along with most of their faults he has learned the hound's chief virtue of faithfulness.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Randall's stated reason for his devotion to Herluin and to Everard d'Aguillon, although Herluin disclaims any actual kindness on his part. It's also the reason Sir Everard 's Saxon villeins love their Norman overlord.
Sir Everard: Randal–do you love me then?
Randal: If you take a half-starved dung-hill whelp and bring it up to be your hunting dog and hearth companion, you're likely to find that the silly brute loves you!
- Blackmail: Randal threatens to expose Thiebaut de Coucy as a conspirator against Red William in order to keep him from taking Dean.
- Burn the Witch!: In one of the story's unlikelier twists, de Coucy dons a Paper-Thin Disguise to incite a mob with Torches and Pitchforks against Ancret and the manor in order to attack Randal.
- Coming of Age Story
- Dark-Skinned Blond: Randal's colouring shows his half-Saxon heritage and contrasts with his Norman foster brother Bevis's Raven Hair, Ivory Skin.
- Dawn of an Era: Of a shared English nationality united against further invasions.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Bevis in Randal's after Tenchebrai.
- Famous Last Words: The dying William de Braose's message to his equally dying friend and liegeman Everard d'Aguillon:
de Braose: I am away; see that you follow my banner as close as you did at Senlac.
- Fiery Redhead: King William the Second, "Red William"; Hugh Goch and his brother Robert de Belleme; and Gisella.
"Hugh Montgomery, whom the Welsh called Hugh Goch–Hugh the Red–from the colour of his hair and perhaps for other reasons also."
- For Want of a Nail: Randal's life changes course entirely because he accidentally dropped a fig off the battlements of Arundel Castle...onto the lord of Arundel Castle.
- Heroic Bastard: Randal, the son of a Saxon lady and a Breton man-at-arms.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Randal and Bevis, foster brothers who plan to spend the rest of their lives as squire and knight.
- Historical-Domain Character: Red William, Duke Robert and Henry of Coutances; Hugh Goch and Robert de Belleme, notably.
- Identical Grandson: Everard and Bevis d'Aguillon, as the characters lampshade.
- Intrepid Merchant: Sir Everard's old friend Laef Thorkelson, with whom he made a voyage to the far north.
- The Jester: Herluin the minstrel of Robert de Belleme, who is able to protect Randal from Hugh Goch through socially-acceptable insolence.
- Knight In Shining Armour: The d'Aguillons, notably.
- Knighting: Bevis undergoes a formal knighting when he comes of age, with an overnight vigil which Randal and Joyeuse secretly share outside the chapel. Bevis knights Randal on the battlefield as he is dying.
- The Lady's Favour: Gisella gives Randal a sprig of rosemary before his first campaign, which he tucks away with his lump of amber. He gives it to Bevis after Tenchebrai.
- Last Minute Hookup: The narrator notes that it hasn't yet occurred to Randal in the last scene that he's eligible to marry Gisella, but it will.
- Lost Him in a Card Game: Herluin wins Randal off Hugh Goch in a game of chess. Because Smart People Play Chess.
- Prophecies Are Always Right: Ancret the wise-woman's prophetic dreams and the random old woman Randal meets in the woods on the eve of Tenchebrai are uncannily accurate about future developments.
- Rescue Romance: Randal rescues Gisella from the midst of a dog fight the second time they meet. She's extra impressed because she'd slapped and insulted him the first time.
- Secret Test of Character: After Tenchebrai Randal's liege-lord gives him the choice of Dean or the chance to ransom the captive Herluin. Randal chooses his debt to Herluin. His lord then remarks that he'd like to have a liegeman who's faithful to the point of stupidity, and gives him both. Naturally he wins Randal's Undying Loyalty on the spot.
- Shout-Out: The prehistoric left-handed hand-ax Lewin the shepherd shows to Randal in "The Flowering Flint" is implied to have belonged to Drem of Warrior Scarlet, written two years earlier. The old name Ancret uses for Bramble Hill, the Hill of Gathering, is that used in WS.
- Sissy Villain: de Coucy is always described in terms of effeminacy, wearing a musk that reminds Randal of a noblewoman and with a voice that is "curiously smooth and hairless."
- Stock Weapon Names: Bevis names his dog Joyeuse after Charlemagne's sword and his horse Durandal after Roland's.
- 0% Approval Rating: King William II is widely unpopular among his Barons, which is probably why he ended up dead in his deer park in the middle of a hunting party.
The Witch's Brat
12th century CE. Lovel, an orphan with a crooked back and foot, becomes an infirmarian monk and helps found St. Bartholomew's hospital.
16th century CE. A runaway headed for Oxford joins a troupe of travelling entertainers.
The Armourer's House
1634 CE. Tamsyn Caunter, who desperately wishes she could be a merchant venturer, must instead go to live with her uncle in London. She settles into the colourful life of the household and city while sharing the secret of their mutual seafaring ambition with her quiet cousin Piers.
The Queen Elizabeth Story
16th century CE. Perdita Pettle, who can see "Pharisees
", is granted her wish to see the Queen's Grace in a year and a day. The year passes through the adventures of Elizabethan country childhood.
Lady In Waiting (adult novel)
1566-1618 CE. Sir Walter Ralegh
spends his life courting royal support for his expeditions to the New World, and his wife Bess spends hers supporting her husband's all-consuming dream.
- Happily Married: Despite the fact that their whole family life revolves around Ralegh's dangerous, time-consuming career, they love each other and she doesn't resent it.
- Historical-Domain Character: Elizabeth Throckmorton, Sir Walter Raleigh, their family; Elizabeth I; Sir Robert Cecil; Henry Stuart; many others.
Stuart & Hanover
The Rider of the White Horse (adult novel)English Civil War
. Sir Thomas Fairfax, followed by his wife Anne, commands Parliamentarian forces in the northern campaign of the war, culminating in the battle of Marston Moor.
1640s. Heterosexual Life Partners
Simon Carey and Amias Hannaford join up on opposite sides of the English Civil War
. Simon's estrangement from Amias, and his corporal Zeal-for-the-Lord Relf
's vendetta against a treacherous friend, are ultimately tested in the battle of Torrington.
- Fighting the Lancer: Simon is The Lancer to Amias, and their years-long estrangement forces Simon to become independent of him and weighs their personal against their political loyalties.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The novel's major subplot. Zeal-for-the-Lord Relf, though a fanatical believer in the Puritan cause, goes AWOL from the the Parliamentarian army to avenge himself on a former friend and neighbour who has stolen from him, deserts again after being recaptured and given A Taste of the Lash, and then joins the Royalist army in order to get close enough to the traitor to kill him. He genuinely doesn't understand why he isn't allowed to do any of this.
- Serious Business: The thing that the neighbour stole from Zeal-for-the-Lord is... a fancy tulip bulb he'd bred.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The church really did blow up, and no one knows who did it.
- Contrived Coincidence: Much of the plot depends on improbable reunions and Infallible Babble, though admittedly it all takes place in Devon.
- Historical-Domain Character: Sir Thomas Fairfax, Col. Ireton, Maj. Disbrow, Sir Philip "Daddy" Skippon, Oliver Cromwell, Dr. David Morrison, Chaplain Joshua Sprigg, and other Parliamentarian officers and pastors; Royalist commanders
1680s Scotland. Hugh Herriot becomes galloper to Claverhouse, leader of government forces against the Scottish Covenanters. When William of Orange takes the English throne, Claverhouse's men become rebels in turn.
- An Arm and a Leg: Hugh retires from soldiering in France when he loses an arm. So the obvious thing to do is take up painting instead.
- For Want of a Nail: The sight of a beggarwoman's hands holding a flower leads Hugh to his second career and his reunion with Darklis.
- Historical-Domain Character: John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee; other lords and officers.
- I Should Write a Book About This: Hugh writes his account of the career of his beloved commander Bonnie Dundee at the behest of his wife, who wants to defend the reputation of their erstwhile employer. Dundee also has a Tagalong Chronicler, real person James Phillip of Amryclose, who wrote The Graemiad on which the novel is partly based.
- Prophecies Are Always Right: Darklis has a vision of the collapse of the Castle of Antwerp Inn in a pool under an elder tree on Midsummer's Eve about a decade before it happens. Given the freak nature of the accident, which really happened, the novel needed something to set it up.
18th century. Damaris and Peter shelter a wounded Jacobite smuggler.
- Hero of Another Story: The events of the novel are an episode in passing among Tom Wildgoose's adventures.
Blood and Sand (adult novel)Napoleonic Wars
. Thomas Keith, a Scottish prisoner of war, is befriended by Tussun, son of the governor of Egypt, and serves them through a deadly power struggle in their court and a war in Arabia, rising to become governor of Medina.
Myths and Legends
- Black Ships Before Troy: The Trojan War.
- The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Odyssey.
- The Hound of Ulster: the exploits of Cuchulainn.
- The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool
- Beowulf: Dragonslayer
- Tristan and Iseult
- The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur
- The Light Beyond the Forest: King Arthur
- The Road to Camlann: King Arthur
- The Chronicles of Robin Hood
- People of the Past: A Saxon Settler
- The Roundabout Horse
- A Little Dog Like You
- Little Hound Found
- The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup
- Chess-dream in a Garden
- Blue Remembered Hills: Autobiography of her life up to the beginning of her writing career.
- Rudyard Kipling: A monograph on Kipling's works for children.
- Houses and History
- Heroes and History