Frontier Wolf – Rosemary Sutcliff, 1980

It’s curious that this was marketed as a young adult novel–yes, the protagonist is young and the book is short (196 pages), but it’s a regular novel that some teens would enjoy if they are advanced readers. It even has a brief mention of sex (that was Robert Heinlein’s definition of his juvenile novels: short adult novels with no sex). In 4th century Britain, 23-year-old Centurion Alexios Flavius Aquila, in disgrace with his superiors, is exiled to take charge of the native Frontier Wolves. He grows into the command, gains the respect of the hardbitten Wolves, and makes friends with Cunorix, son of the local chieftain. It’s really about career: recovering from failure, learning a new job, dealing with the stupidity of management (Praepositus Montanus comes to visit and starts a chain of tragic events)–also touching on friendship, betrayal, and courage. Sutcliffe has a knack of making the past live. Most of her books seem to feature stoic male protagonists and lots of battles; they fit seamlessly into the stiff-uppper-lip school of British boys’ stories that I was weaned on.

Features the new-to-me word “kalegarth,” which isn’t even Googleable–now it is!–or in the OED. Looks like it’s more commonly spelled “calgarth” and means “kailyard”: “a cabbage garden, kitchen-garden, such as is commonly attached to a small cottage.” Here’s the context: “…this country that they knew as a man knows his own kalegarth.”

3 thoughts on “Frontier Wolf – Rosemary Sutcliff, 1980

  1. I just googled this page as my son, a twelve year old in his last year of primary school, is about to make a book review of ‘Frontier Wolf’. This Tuesday, he will give a talk on this book to a group of childeren from nine to twelve or thirteen. I think this kind of book appeals to children as it deals with subjects like friendship, being true to yourself, and how to deal with the enemy, when you are aware of the fact that they are people like yourself and not some unknown entity. This is how it should be: books entertain and teach children to think about their own values. Sutcliff is one of the finest authors to do that, even if her language is more poetical and difficult than most authors of juvenile fiction. So her books stretches their minds. Who would complain?

  2. I read these comments with interest – a personal interest as Rosemary was my godmother and a close family member. Many of the themes of her books, almost all with male heroes, connect with her experience as an outsider because of her severe physical disability. Also she never learned to read until she was about twelve herself…………

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