An excellent story of Roman Britain’s frontier, but with some violence and pagan elements.
When Alexios Flavius Aquila makes the wrong decision in a brush with Germanic tribes and loses an entire garrison, he is sentenced to the Valentian-Caledonian border to take over command of the Frontier Wolves - a motley, hardy pack scraped together from the scum of the Empire and held together with their own code of loyalty. As an outsider, Alexios must either learn their ways or end up dead.
In the midst of his getting a feel for his new outpost, Alexios stumbles headlong into a tribal uprising. Far from any reinforcements from Rome, Alexios hears himself giving the same fateful command he gave on the Danube: pull out. So with the tribesmen harrying his heels and ravaging the winter land all around him, his task is to get his Frontier Wolves back to Roman jurisdiction as safely as may be, and suffer what consequences may come.
The tribesmen and the Frontier Wolves have their code of conduct which they maintain with all politeness. Morality itself is never addressed as an issue.
Alexios and many of his men, also the tribesmen, hold to the old pagan gods. It is the custom for the Frontier Wolves to touch a stone called the Lady while passing by and it is assumed she gives them good hunting and safety. There are some Christians in the group, but these are never looked at very closely and by and large the pagan gods dominate the scene.
There is plenty of violence. There are knife-cuts and bruises from a fight, tussles in a game; a man gets an arrow in his stomach and takes some time dying, and Alexios contemplates a severed head. But while there is a lot of violence and plenty of room for violence, nothing is described in such a way as to turn one’s stomach.
Drug and Alcohol Content
There is drinking and drunkenness, though the main character is good at keeping his head clear.
It is suggested in passing that the Frontier Wolves, while they have no wives, do have girls.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
This story is both beautiful and intense. As in everything, Sutcliff paints a gloriously living picture of life in Roman Britain, this time through the eyes of a soldier learning to be a man. It makes for a riveting tale during the time when Rome was divided East and West and the Empire was drawing to a close.