Monday, April 27, 2015

Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Title: Mark of the Thief
Author: Jennifer Nielsen
Release Date:
Feb 24, 2015

Cover Impressions:

The Gist:
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.

Working in the mines and obeying orders (at least the ones that aren't stupid), Nic has one goal - to free himself and his sister.  When the men discover a mysterious cave one doesn't come out, and the other will never be the same again.  Forced to enter the cave himself, Nic encounters a fearsome Griffin and an ancient Bulla (an amulet given to male children in Rome).  Stealing both, he ends up on the run from a general who has darker plans for Rome and finds himself at the center of a plot to overthrow the emperor and a world of magic that he never dreamed existed.  Now, Nic must fight for freedom, his sister, the empire and discover who can be trusted in a world of intrigue.

Nic is a very reminiscent of Sage from Jennifer Nielsen's The False Prince trilogy.  He is clever and witty.  He is always willing to deliver a scathing retort - even when he probably shouldn't.  I was a little disappointed that his inner monologue was not nearly as interesting as Sage's was, and I found myself skimming those parts to get to the action.  Nic has a great frenemy in Aurelia.  She is determined, single-minded, and great with weapons.  Nic and she have a very love-hate relationship, but I don't really see this going the romantic route.  More, they will continue to gain respect for one another and become strong allies.  We only see a little of Livia, Nic's sister, and I am really excited to see what type of role she takes on in the next book.

I knew very little of Ancient Rome coming into this book and the author did an excellent job of describing the architecture, politics, and methods of entertainment.  The magic of this world is really well incorporated into the Roman belief system.  I was a particular fan of Nic's new found power to talk to animals.  I can see this having fantastic implications as the series continues.  I also loved that where most media concentrates on the gladiator fights that took place in the colloseum, this one features the animal fights.  It was interesting to see a different side of these events. 

The plot is fast paced and fun.  There are very few moments of downtime as Nic attempts to escape the consequences of stealing the Bulla.  For the first half, he spent a great deal of time simply reacting to the situations unfolding around him and I began to get frustrated with his inability to concoct a plan.  As we reached the middle of the book he took on a more controlling role and started to meet challenges head on, rather than attempting to run from them.  This developed his character further and allowed me to engage more with the plot.   

Mark of the Thief is a fun and exciting start to a promising new series. Young readers will love Nic's adventure and the historic elements on which the plot is built.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

10 and up
Sex: None
Violence: Knifeplay, Swordplay, Death of animals, Death by magic
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None


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