Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review: The Beggar of Volubilis - Caroline Lawrence

The Beggar of Volubilis by Caroline Lawrence
Series: The Roman Mysteries #14
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction, mystery
Published on October 1, 2007
Published by Orion Children's Books
Pages: 272
Read From: 2.21.12 - 2.24.12

March, AD 81 
Emperor Titus wants Flavia and her friends to find a precious gem called "Nero's Eye." According to prophecy, whoever possesses the stone will rule Rome: so Titus needs it to maintain his power, especially since it's rumored that Nero is not dead, but still alive. 

Their mission takes the four detectives on a caravan across North Africa, where they encounter wild animals and beast-hunters, sandstorms and mirages, pantomime actors, and a mysterious beggar who claims to have witnessed Nero's dead.


This was not the most exciting of the collection, and it could have been. First off, it begins rather abruptly with Flavia and Nubia hunting in the woods and taking a sudden vow to never marry. Then we're launched into an African adventure that has lots of foreshadowing of what may happen. But any hints of ominous doings is pretty much glossed over with "it-was-coincidence" explanations in the end, and everyone goes home happy. The beggar does not play as big of a role as one might suppose, the gem is nothing especially mysterious or amazing, and the possibility of Nero being alive barely comes into play. In fact, the whole "major" plotline felt more like a sub-plot. In-between adventures take up most of the time, and even these are not very entertaining. Flavia gets lost in the desert in one of the most abrupt and random ways I've read in a long time. It was painfully obvious that the Author inserted this for action's sake. Nothing important happens, nothing exciting happens. Flavia has a dream that could have taken place without her having to get lost in the desert due to her own stupidity. Seriously - who comes back from a privy break, suddenly sees a vast expanse of water in the desert's distance, and decides to go chase after it? Especially when they suspect it might be a mirage?

Even when I was younger, I would have been disappointed with this volume. I can only hope that some of the events pertaining to Nero's Eye eventually resurface in later installments, thus justifying the lack of a satisfying ending.

Others in The Roman Mysteries Series:
1)The Thieves of Ostia
2)The Secrets of Vesuvius
3)The Pirates of Pompeii
4)The Assassins of Rome
5)The Dolphins of Laurentum
6)The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina
7)The Enemies of Jupiter
8)The Gladiators from Capua
9)The Colossus of Rhodes
10)The Fugitive from Corinth
11)The Sirens of Surrentum
12)The Charioteer of Delphi
13)The Slave-Girl from Jerusalem
14)The Beggar of Volubilis
15)The Scribes from Alexandria
16)The Prophet from Ephesus
17)The Man from Pomegranate Street

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