Book one of the Praetor War
By Jennifer A. Nielsen
Available now from Scholastic Press
Read my Jennifer A. Nielsen tag
I loved the Ascendance trilogy, so I was eager to read MARK OF THE THIEF, the first book in Jennifer A. Nielsen's new Praetor War series. The story follows Nicolas Calva, known as Nic, a young slave in the Roman Empire. When his master discovers a cave full of Caesar's treasures, Nic is tasked with finding a bulla. However, he ends up possessing the bulla himself, which leads him down the path of adventure and potentially being a pawn for either side of a brewing war.
MARK OF THE THIEF is a very easy read. The action is fast and furious, and the cast is reasonably sized so that it is easy to remember who everyone is. I do wish there were more female characters. Aurelia, a mercenary, becomes Nic's ally, and one of his major motivations is reuniting with his sister. However, both of the girls are great characters. You do have to pay attention to the characters, because they change sides easily.
I think the combination of the Roman Empire and magic is very appealing. There's some actual history about the subjugation of conquered people and class in Roman times in addition to a fantastical adventure that pits magic user against magic user. Given the presences of gods and griffins, however, don't expect too much actual history.
I flew through this novel with much enjoyment, aside from one major flaw: I don't understand Nic. He's a Gaul who was forced into hiding and then kidnapped into slavery. When he gets a little power and can make choices for himself, he firmly opposes the man who wants to destroy the Roman Empire and works to preserve it with all he has. Why does he care about Rome? Why is he so loyal to the force that enslaved him? Why doesn't he want to bring it crashing down or help his fellow slaves rebel or anything but be a good subject of the emperor? I have no idea, and it bothers me every time I think about it.
MARK OF THE THIEF showcases Nielsen's addictive writing, which has much to entice adults as well as the target child audience. She's got an ear for action and a flair with magic. But this series just might fall apart if she can't make sense of why Nic does what he does with such determination on the page.