Jeremy Strong’s whacky humour continues unabated in this his latest story set in Ancient Rome. Centring around a boisterous family and their immediate neighbours, it turns on their daily antics, adventures and relationships. The narrator is Croakbag, an observant and garrulous raven who is pet to Perilus and his family. He’s a chariot-race fanatic, as is Perilus and young hero-friend Scorcha, both of whom dream of becoming charioteers – a dream that encompasses many a madcap adventure involving nasty neighbours Crabbus and his wife Septicaemia, the slave Flippus Floppus, the mad inventor Maddasbananus, two goats and various love entanglements.
The characters’ names set the tone of the story, which flits from one person to another as Croakbag listens in on conversations while also offering the reader many a random commentary and aside. Humour spills over on every page, combining slapstick, the clever use of a smattering of Latin words and phrases and wordplay in the form of puns, alliteration and figurative expressions whose literal meanings render them absurd. Inspiringly silly, the story gallops along wildly, its frenetic cheerfulness ending in a cliff-hanger that is to be resolved in the next book in the series.