A successful adult writer, Simon Scarrow has now turned his hand to the children’s arena with what seems to be the first of a series about a young Roman. Set at the time of the Roman Empire it tells of Marcus, son of a centurion who was at the battle when Spartacus was captured. His father falls into debt and is killed, and Marcus and his mother are sold as slaves, despite being Roman citizens. Marcus escapes and vows to free his mother, calling in a debt of honour to his late father from General Pompeius. But Marcus is recaptured and sold on to Porcino who runs a gladiator school outside Rome. At nearly 12 he is trained as a gladiator, running foul of a fellow trainee Ferax, whom he is asked to fight to the death for the edification of some important Roman guests.
This story is fast paced and very readable, and Marcus is a likeable character. The extent of the power and the mix of nationalities in the Roman Empire are all brought to life in this story. There are graphic accounts of battles, killings and the training of the gladiators, but without too much gore. The text assumes some familiarity with Roman life as the author throws in such sayings as ‘We who are about to die salute you!’
The scene is nicely set for a sequel as Marcus exchanges one form of slavery for another, with possibly a romance too!