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in association with, click hereGetorix: The Eagle and The Bull:
A Celtic Adventure in Ancient Rome
a Young Adult Novel by Judith Geary

Getorix glanced around, snatched at a moment’s hope. ‘Have we vanished from the eyes of the Roman rabble as well? Will Lugh, god of light, appear to conduct us out of danger?’

The moon-faced Roman boy saw them, certainly. As Getorix glanced in his direction, the boy’s palm came up as if in greeting. Getorix dropped his hand from the brooch on his shoulder, and gripped his own wrist beneath the shackles. What could the foolish Roman boy be thinking, to believe that Getorix, son of King Claodicos of the Cimmeri, would recognize kinship with a Roman?

The year is 101 BCE, Gaius Marius and Quintus Lutatius Catulus, having defeated the Cimbri at Vercellae – and Marius the Teutones at Aquae Sextiae – are celebrating their joint triumph. Custom has it that defeated adversaries are to be executed at the end of the triumphal procession, and among these are the Cimbrian king Claodicos and his young son Getorix. However, on a whim, Catulus' son Lucius (a fictional Catulus as explained in the Author's Notes) requests Getorix as his slave from his father. A quarrel between Marius and Catulus over Getorix' fate, with Sulla the fence sitter proposing a solution, makes him the subject of a hideous bet. But Getorix, besides hating the idea of becoming a slave, believes his father wanted him to follow him into the “Otherworld”, and in the beginning tries his best to do so.

The youngest son and not deemed warrior material by his father, Getorix has been educated by the Druids and does speak and read Greek, and has picked up Latin too during his brief captivity. And he can talk in his own Celtic language with some of his fellow slaves in the Catulus household. In some ways, this does not make life easier for him, it makes him outspoken and gets him into constant trouble.

This is a coming of age story of two boys, of Getorix, whom fate has thrown into a hostile and utterly bewildering environment – he mistakes the wax masks of the Lutatius ancestors for the heads of slain enemies – and of Lucius, the sickly, spoiled baby of the family, an involuntary loner who desperately wants to have a friend. And it's a whopping adventure tale besides. But to tell more of the plot would spoil the suspense.

We meet a host of characters: helpfully, there is a partial Dramatis Personae list. Besides the ones mentioned already, there are Catulus' wife, the soft-hearted Servilia; various members of the Julii Caesares – the author here follows Colleen McCullough's idea that Sulla may have been married to a younger Julia; the slaves in Catulus' household, several of them Celts like Getorix, with the main characters of Catulus' bodyguard Keltus, and Brosch (a somewhat strange name for a Celt or renamed slave), the young weaver woman who has been taken under Servilia's wing; Roman street children, thugs, and soldiers; the Celtic beggar Senias; and other recent Cimbrian slaves, among them Boiorix, the son of the vanquished king by the same name and a nasty piece of work. Gaius Marius, soon to embark on his sixth and not so glorious consulship and mostly seen through Getorix hostile eyes (the author largely following Plutarch here), comes off as a rather bad character also. Catulus' literary scholarship gets honorable mention.

Judith Geary has an intimate knowledge of the era of republican Rome and brings the city and its inhabitants to life. The reader learns about Roman houses and households, customs, temples, and life outside the sheltered home of Catulus. Lavish illustrations from 19th century publications as well as drawings by the contemporary artist Caroline Gerratt help the reader along.

Though intended for “anyone with an active mind who's interested in the Roman Republic and has little prior knowledge,” the main target audience are 12-15 year olds and an assumed reading level of 6.4. Ms. Geary does not insult the intelligence of the latter group: battle scenes, death and dying are openly and honestly dealt with, as are punishments of slaves, and other unpleasant or adult aspects of life.

Helpful “Author's Notes” and an extensive glossary complete the book. There is also a companion curriculum in the works, and accordingly, the book chapters are many and short. Judith Geary has a website which goes into all this in detail and includes Chapters I through IV and a page on Roman Life, which also has links to various articles on Ancient Rome written by the author over the years. They can all be found here too.

This is a well-crafted first novel by an author who understands her audience. A sequel, “Getorix II: Games of the Underworld,” is in the work, with a teaser added to the current book. This reviewer has not much experience with young adult literature, but she does with teens themselves, and can highly recommend this book, as well as its ancillary educational aims. And she thoroughly enjoyed the suspenseful story, and looks forward to the sequel!

A note: The author goes into the vexing question whether the Cimbri should be considered Celts or Germans, and explains her interpretation for the novel in her notes under “Points of View.”

© 2006 Irene B. Hahn
in association with, click hereGetorix: The Eagle and The Bull:
A Celtic Adventure in Ancient Rome

by Judith Geary
278 pages
Ingalls Pub/High Country (July 15, 2006)
ISBN: 193215874X
The Roman Republic & Getorix books by Judith Geary

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