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The thing that I’ve always loved about Rosemary Sutcliff is that she doesn’t give you an ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. She gives you, well, the best ending for that story – the most realistic.

But that doesn’t mean that I have like it.

*** beware, there might be a few spoilers ahead ***


The Mark of the Horse Lord

by Rosemary Sutcliff

If you are looking for encouraging Christian historical fiction … this isn’t it. It’s rather pagan – in fact, one of the central conflicts is between one people who worship a god and the other which worship a goddess.

Usually (as in Dawn Windthe Lantern Bearers, the Silver Branch etc) Christianity is at least mentioned in passing – one of my favourite quotes (and scenes) in the Silver Branch is this one:

The young Centurion, who had been completely still throughout, said very softly, as though to himself, “Greater love hath no man–” and Justin thought it sounded as though he were quoting someone else.

There is nothing like that in this book as it is set in a purely pagan culture.

The description from Amazon:

‘Take my place, Phaedrus, and with it, take my vengeance . . .’

Phaedrus the gladiator wins his freedom after years of bloody battles in the arena. Soon he finds himself riding north towards the wilds of Caledonia on a strange mission. He is to assume the identity of Midir, Lord of the Horse People, to seek vengeance against the treacherous Liadhan, who has usurped the throne.

Ahead of him lies more adventure and more danger than he had ever known in the arena . . .

As I was nearing the last few pages and the conflict wasn’t resolved, I started to gain a dreadful feeling as to what the ending might be.

And then, of course, I read it. And was hit with – what is it called – the ‘feels’? Yes – I was certainly hit with feels. The ending was the right one for Phaedrus; for the story itself; I couldn’t imagine another way for it to end that didn’t have Phaedrus going against everything that he was and had become.

And that’s (one of) the reasons why I enjoy Sutcliff’s books – because they aren’t all rose-tinted glasses.

Did I love this book? … hmmm … it’s difficult to say. My feelings are rather hard to put into words.

But what I can say is that it was definitely a Bookish Adventure: one with wild tribesmen, tension, Romans, battles, friendships, fire and so, so much more.

You can buy the Mark of the Horse Lord here. Meanwhile I’m off to find therapy for all the ‘feels’ I’ve been subjected to by the reading of this book …