Author: Simon Scarrow
Genre: Historical, Children's
Published: 3rd February 2011 (Puffin)
It's Rome, 61 BC. Recruited as a gladiator, young Marcus Cornelius Primus faces a new life of brutal training, governed by strict rules, as he learns the skills of an elite warrior. But Marcus cannot simply forget his past. His father lies murdered by soldiers and his mother has been kidnapped and forced into slavery. Marcus is determined to find his father's old commander, Pompeius the Great, to seek justice for his family and set his mother free. Yet, unbeknown to him, Marcus is hiding a life-threatening secret. And if the Romans discover it, there will be no escape...
Marcus Cornelius Primus is the son of a Roman Centurian. With the first ten years of his life spent on his family's farm in Greece, Marcus' life is suddenly turned upside down when his father is killed and he and his mother are taken as slaves. Marcus is then sold to a Gladiator trainer where he learns to fight whilst all the time contemplating his escape and how he can find and free his mother. He sets his sights on somehow making it to Rome to find General Pompeius, who's life his father once saved, in the hope he will help ... that is until Marcus finds out that his past is not what he always thought it to be.
This is a fast paced, exciting adventure story that I imagine is primarily aimed at ten to fourteen year old boys but at the same time is a great read for all. Scarrow's writing superbly describes the scenes and the period in which the book is set and you really get a sense of what it was like to be a slave in the Roman era. It is clearly well researched. The fight scenes don't hold back on their realism but are still appropriate for the target age of the book.
I liked that Marcus acted his age. He would sometimes not make the best decisions, acting more in tune to his feelings than what might be best long term. He also had that determination and optimism that only a ten-year-old can have. He doesn't really consider that Rome is a heck of a long way or the dangers that might stand in his way. He's courageous yet vulnerable and in general a well balanced, well written character.
There were some aspects of the plot that were a little predictable but again, it is a children's/young teen book so that's usually the case when reading as an adult. Still, while it might have been obvious what the outcome was going to be, how the story got there wasn't always as predictable. And in any case, these elements were things that you wanted to happen so it was all good.
I'll definitely be looking out for the second book in this series and will likely also check out some of the authors other books.