Book: Mark of the Thief (Praetor War, Book 1)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Age Range: 10-14
Mark of the Thief is the first book in Jennifer Nielsen's new Praetor War series, set in ancient Rome. When a slave boy who works in the mines discovers (and appropriates) a magical artifact that last belong to Julius Caesar, his life is changed forever. Nic soon finds himself able to do magic, but still relatively powerless as a pawn between rival Roman senators and other officials. There ware twists and turns, magical animals, and Roman baths. This is a very fun series launch, certain to be popular with upper middle grade and middle school fans of fantasy and adventure.
Despite the differences in setting and use of magic, Mark of the Thief has a similar feel to the books in Nielsen's Ascendance trilogy. Nic's voice brings Sage's voice to mind, at least a bit, though the two boys come from very different backgrounds. Both boys are stubborn, arrogant beyond their current station, and fiercely loyal.
This is not a bad thing -- fans of the Ascendance series (I am one myself) are going to simply gobble up Mark of the Thief. I read it in a single day, enjoying the layers of secrets that Nielsen reveals, as well as the tidbits of historical background about ancient Rome. I can't say that Nic's voice feels particularly Roman (or slave-like) to me, but I think that any attempt to do this differently might have rendered the book too difficult to read. Here's the opener:
"In Rome, nothing mattered more than the gods, and nothing mattered less than its slaves. Only a food of a slave would ever challenge the gods' power.
I was beginning to look like that fool.
I was a slave in the mines south of Rome and, generally speaking, did my job well. I worked hard and kept my head down and even took orders without complaint -- unless it was a stupid order, one that risked my life. Then I was just as happy to ignore it." (Page 1)
Mark of the Thief also features a strong female character, Aurelia, whom the reader senses early on will become important to Nic. There are a number of other characters whose loyalty is unclear, as well as a kidnapped sister who Nic worries about. There's also a somewhat cranky griffin, which is pretty cool. There are also plenty of intriguing settings. A couple of key scenes take place in the Flavian Amphitheater, where gladiators fight, another occurs in a vineyard.
I think in a way, in reading this book, I was harmed by having read The False Prince books. I was expecting twists and hidden identities. So it was tough for Nielsen to surprise me. But I nonetheless enjoyed Mark of the Thief very much. I'm certain that kids are going to love it, and I look forward to the next book. A must-purchase for libraries, and a great gift item for any fantasy adventure fan (male or female), ages 10 and up.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).