Part two of Jennifer A. Nielsen week!
In this satisfying and exciting sequel to Mark of the Thief, “runaway slave with magic” Nic continues his fight against the Praetors in Ancient Rome. Having stolen a magical bulla from Caeser’s tomb, Nic is now on the trail of the powerful Malice of Mars, which is buried in a temple that only he has the key to – at least everyone thinks he has the key, though Nic has no idea what or where it is.
Ms Nielsen writes terrific action scenes – they’re grippingly exciting, particularly the chariot race at the Ludi Romani, which races along with dramatic twists and turns, and the climax in the temple, which is chilling and cinematic.
Nic remains an engaging narrator with his sharp wit and intelligence, and other characters re-appear, and have developed depth and complexity: Aurelia, the feisty plebeian, continues to joust with Nic in a way that can only mean that they’re destined for each other; Crispus more clearly emerges as the straight man to Nic’s magic and quips; Livia, Nic’s sister, stops being a drip (mostly); and their grandfather General Radulf develops a second dimension.
However, there isn’t as much interesting stuff about Ancient Rome as there was in the previous book, and, I must admit, I got a little lost in the ins and outs of the back story to all the magical items, though it was fine to just roll with it. The plot is probably more complicated than I’d like, but it rattles along with some good twists and reveals. And I do dislike a cliffhanger ending – I feel novels should be complete in themselves, even when part of a series.
Nonetheless, this is a very solid sequel, which middle grade fantasy action readers are sure to enjoy and I look forward to the final book of the trilogy.
Thanks to Scholastic and Edelweiss for the digital review copy.