CHILD OF THE EAGLE
by Esther Friesner
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Esther Friesner's Child of the Eagle: A Myth of Rome begins the night before Julius Caesar's assassination. One of the conspirators, Marcus Junius Brutus has a visitation in his garden by a beautiful woman who seems to know all about the assassination plot. Rather than go to Caesar to protect him, she has opted to convince Brutus not to murder the man who had shown him so much leniency in the past (Caesar pardoned Brutus after Brutus supported Caesar's opponent, Pompey in 46BC). Although her arguments are anything but convincing, Brutus eventually agrees to attempt to thwart the conspiracy.
By saving Caesar, and therefore himself, Brutus puts himself on the path to greatness. As Brutus's career in the Roman senate advances, he begins to notice, or at least believe, that all those who are close to him die untimely deaths, perhaps as part of Brutus's own gift from the gods that he live to one hundred without aging.
Friesner's book has a certain disjointed quality to it. The novel covers approximately forty years in Brutus's life, from the assassination attempt on Caesar in 44BC until he repudiated his gift nearly forty years later when he was in his eighties. Unfortunately, some chapters follow directly on the heels of the previous chapter while others are set with years between them. Friesner never really manages to clarify how much time has past, the reader, therefore, spends the beginning of each chapter trying to figure out whether a day or a decade has past since the previous chapter.
Child of the Eagle doesn't really begin to pick up speed until the final chapters, when Brutus has resigned the various positions he held in the Roman government and travels to the provinces of Judaea and Egypt. Here he must deal with his longtime enemy and half-brother Ptolemy Caesarion as well as fulfill a murder he promised to his midnight stranger before Caesar's assassination. Although Friesner's intentions become clear rather quickly at this point, she manages to tell this part of the story in an interesting way, as Brutus has, by now, begun to question the use of assassination and murder.
Friesner's Brutus bears slight resemblence to the historical Brutus. Although both have a strong sense of patriotism to Roma, Friesner's Brutus is more willing to use assassination for his political ends than the historical Brutus, who opposed assassination in all cases save Caesar's. Furthermore, the historical Brutus seems to have been somewhat lackluster and generally did not make decisions unless they were forced upon him, preferring to let others make his choices. Obviously, this type of character would not have been a good focal point for the novel Friesner had in mind, so she was forced to alter Brutus's qualities.
Although not great literature, Child of the Eagle is a reasonably good read if nothing else really jumps out at you. However, as with Connie Willis, I tend to prefer Friesner's shorter works to her novels. I also found that Friesner's sense of humor was lacking, for the most part, from this novel.
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