Beyond The Wall
By Tanya Landman
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 978 1 4063 6627 3
Forty years after the Roman emperor Claudius conquered southern Britain in 43AD, general Julius Agricola led a force of 20,000 soldiers northwards to the country of Caledonia (Scotland). But, unlike the rest of Britain, the Roman Army never managed to conquer Caledonia. The tribes and clans that lived there were wild and fierce, and proved to be more than a match for the disciplined Roman army.
But something had to be done to protect Britannia against attacks from Caledonian warriors. In 122AD, the Romans began building a wall. Hadrian’s Wall was 117km long, took 14 years to build, and stretched from the North Sea in the east to the Irish Sea in the west. It was the largest structure ever built by the Romans.
Hadrian’s Wall plays a key role in Tanya Landman’s novel Beyond the Wall, with the action set at the start of a rebellion against the Roman occupation of Northern England. In the winter of 367AD, the Romans on Wall rebelled against their own generals and allowed warriors from Caledonia to enter Britannia. This was the beginning of the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain.
Fourteen-year-old Cassia is a slave on the estate of rich Titus Cornelius Festus, a powerful Roman and a nasty character. When Festus attacks Cassia, the feisty teen fights back, and in her fury, bites off his ear.
In the mayhem that follows the attack, Cassia escapes. Confused and alone, she heads south for Londinium where she meets young Roman trader Marcus Aquila. For reasons of his own, which are not revealed until later, Marcus agrees to help Cassia return to the estate of Festus and rescue her young brother.
Slaves in Roman Britannia were treated little better than animals by landowners like Festus. Landman doesn’t shy away from the cruelty of the place and time, and some of the scenes could be uncomfortable reading for younger readers.
Cassia and Marcus, along with Cassia’s brother, manage to escape Festus’ clutches, and the trio head north to the Wall. The lands beyond the wall are free, where they might find relative safety.
Chased by Festus’ men up to the border, Cassia and Marcus have to fight for their lives. This part is a nail-biting scenario over which hangs the question of what actually awaits the escapees beyond the Wall.
This is a great read for older teenagers who will relish the strong characters (one of the most important being, of course, the Wall), the suspense-filled chases, and some well-placed cliffhangers.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org