Review Blog

Mar 16 2011

Gladiator by Simon Scarrow

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Puffin, 2011. ISBN 9780141333974.
(Age 11+) Recommended. Lovers of historical fiction and action packed books will be delighted with this plot driven, exciting novel set in the time of ancient Rome. Marcus is a young boy who has been taken as a slave after his ex-centurion father was killed because he couldn't pay back his debts. His mother too is enslaved. Marcus is determined to secure her release by talking to General Pompeius the Great whose life was saved by his father in the aftermath of the rebellion by Spartacus and the slaves. Taken to a school for gladiators, he trains tirelessly and waits for an opportunity to escape.
The book is rich in historical detail and is a good introduction to Roman history and soldiers. I thoroughly enjoyed this portrayal of life as a slave in Roman times. I avidly read right to the end in a couple of sittings, longing to see if Marcus could survive his arduous training, the attacks by bullies and fights in the arena. A mark on Marcus' shoulder seems to point to an important secret, and canny readers will have fun predicting just what that brand means.
Life in the gladiator school was described in all its gory detail and was quite fascinating to read about. I won't easily forget the way the slaves were branded or the inhumanity of the Roman aristocrats and children watching fights to the death. Although there are bloodthirsty scenes, Marcus maintains his integrity and does not kill his enemies. In fact violence and bullying are depicted as wrong, and Marcus maintains a high moral attitude throughout the book, even when he is taunted and tormented.
This is the first in a series by Simon Scarrow, who usually writes for adults, and is a welcome addition to the thriller genre. Although the book is long, the sentences are short and easy to read, and this combined with the exciting plot, may appeal to reluctant readers. A website with information and a book trailer will also stimulate those who enjoyed the book. Gladiator is dedicated to Rosemary Sutcliffe and children may be tempted to read some of her outstanding historical novels.
Pat Pledger

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