Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: Mark of the Thief - Jennifer A. Nielsen

Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Series: The Praetor War #1
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fantasy
Published on February 24, 2015
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 352
Read From: 5.9.15 - 5.11.15

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, 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.


Dear Mark of the Thief,

As a fan of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy, Ancient Rome, and fantasy, when I heard about you, I absolutely knew that I had to read you. My expectations were somewhat high, as Jennifer A. Nielsen totally impressed me with her previous series. And when I go into a book with high expectations, it can sometimes make me disappointed. Mark of the Thief, you weren’t one of them.

You tell the story of young Nicolas Calva, a slave in a Roman mine, who has always done as he’s told - but only if he thinks the order is worth his time. But then Nicolas is ordered to go down into a mysterious chamber that reportedly houses the lost treasure of Julius Caesar. Several slaves have already died and Nic isn’t about to become another one. But slaves don’t have the luxury of disobeying their masters and he’s forced to go down and retrieve a specific object: Caesar’s bulla. But as soon as Nic touches the bulla, he’s endowed with godlike powers that turn him into the most feared and most hunted slave in all of Rome. Before he realizes it, he’s caught up in a dangerous game of political intrigue, warring Roman families, and abilities that only the gods should possess.

Once again, Jennifer A. Nielsen presents us with a snarky, quick-witted protagonist in Nic. But unlike Sage from The Ascendance Trilogy, Nic doesn’t have the devil’s own luck. In fact, quite the opposite; he seems to have the worst luck on earth. Nic doesn’t ask for anything that happens to him; he has tried to live his life as a slave relatively quietly, looking after his sister and praying that one day he can eke out a better life for them both. But fate just won’t leave him alone and he can’t seem to trust anyone - not even people who claim to be his friends. Everyone wants to use him for their own means, and I felt just so bad for him as he was used and abused by one person after another. I wanted him to finally trust the right people, but his distrust was completely and utterly understandable. At the same time, I wanted to smack some characters for not trusting Nic. The poor boy is a victim of circumstance; he isn’t asking for any of this; he has no clue what’s going on. Just be nice to him, please? Aurelia is an equally-intelligent and tough female companion; she looks after herself and no one else. I totally understood her motivations, but I also wanted to smack her for continually refusing to help Nic and not believing him about things. Then there’s Radulf, the villain, who was properly intimidating, cold, and calculating. I could respect him.

Your plot, Mark of the Thief, is extremely fast paced. I love an action-packed plot, but at the same time, yours was almost too fast. Nic hardly gets any time to rest from any of his ordeals, and the Reader is given even less time to absorb all of the twists and revelations that keep popping up. I could, because of this, totally sympathize with Nic’s exhaustion and bewilderment and uncertainty. But by the end, I was tired, I wasn’t sure what had just happened, and I wanted time to sit and think. Who can I trust? What are all the deals characters are making with each other? What just happened?! One thing is for certain: you aren’t boring at any point.

I really, really liked you. You are an extremely promising beginning to a brand new historical fantasy-adventure series. Nic is a wonderful protagonist and the side characters equally well fleshed out. I was even gleefully surprised to discover that Middle Grade or not, you didn’t shy away from the brutality of the Roman world - nor did the Author shy away from being cruel to her characters. You aren’t graphic, but you are very intense and your poor characters go through a lot of very realistic trauma. Your plot was just a little too quick; I would have liked a bit more spacing in between revelations. Even so, you were a terrific book.

Feeling wowed,
~ Mara A. ~

Others in The Praetor War Series:
1)Mark of the Thief
2)Rise of the Wolf

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