Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mark of the Thief - Jennifer A. Nielsen

Summary: When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods -- magic some Romans would kill for.

Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic's newfound powers for their own dark purposes.

In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire's most powerful and savage leaders. Summary and image from

Review: Everyone loves a good underdog story. There's just something satisfying about reading about the successes of the little guy, and it doesn't get much lower than a Roman slave in the mines. Sent on a mission that will most certainly lead to his doom, Nic comes face to face with a griffin, and to his surprise, is not only marked with Magic, but comes into possession of Caesar's bulla, a magical object that holds the power of the Gods. 

Disclaimer: this is clearly a middle grade book. Not quite YA, still too mature for younger-but-skilled readers, this could be a poster child for the MG genre. It's fun. It's a little intense, but not so intense that I'd hesitate giving it to my 11 year old. It's a good blend of silly, sweet, and suspenseful.

As a book falling solely in the MG genre, it's also predictable. From an adult standpoint, it was super easy to see where the characters were being led, the twists weren't true twists as much as well-broadcast turns, but I didn't get bored. Sometimes it's a pleasant change to read something that requires less brain power than Victor Hugo, and where I'm not as stressed about solving the mystery as I tend to be with the Queen of Mystery Agatha Christie's books. This is exactly that kind of book--fun, doesn't require too much commitment, easy on the mind, and well-written enough for me to look past the genre and reach for the second book. I'm curious to see what one of my kiddos would make of the book. 

Rating: Three and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: The treatment of Nic as a slave could illicit discussions with your children. Since this book is set in Ancient Rome, gladiators also make an appearance. It's not gruesome, but it may bring about some questions.

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