Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2015)

markA fantasy adventure set in the ancient Roman Empire.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:   352 (for ISBN 9780545561549)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, adventure

Tone/Style: conversational, personal

Pace: moderate

Topics: magical objects, magical powers, slaves, gods, ancient Rome

Themes: family, loyalty, freedom, power

Summary: 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.

Who will like this book?: This book treads ground that will be familiar and appealing to fans of fantasy and adventure. Its ancient Rome setting is unusual and should be an interesting change for epic fantasy fans in particular.

Who won’t like this book?: Though there is some humor to lighten the mood, Nic spends the majority of the story being victimized, and some readers may find that oppressive. Some may find the shifting alliances and various magical forces difficult to keep track of.

Other comments: One standout aspect of this story is that few people, if any, are portrayed as trustworthy. That’s something you don’t see so much in books written for this young of an audience, and it keeps readers on their toes.

Sequel(s): Rise of the Wolf (2016), Wrath of the Storm (2017)

Readalikes: This book is quite similar to Nielsen’s previous bestseller The False Prince. The Thief by Meghan Whalen Turner is also an excellent readalike. The Fire of Ares by Michael Ford is another book about a slave from ancient times with a sought-after artifact.

-Kylie Peters


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