Shadow of the centaurs: an Ancient Greek mystery by Saviour Pirotta
Ill. by Freya Hartas. Bloomsbury, 2018. ISBN: 9781472940254.
(Age: 8-12) Recommended. Themes: Ancient Greece, Mystery. Saviour Pirotta's fourth book in the Ancient Greek Mysteries series is a lively tale of mystery and celebration. In Shadow of the Centaurs the citizens of Athens are preparing for the festival of Anthesteria to honour Dionysus the god of wine and to celebrate the beginning of spring. Pirotta's attention to detail from clothing, architecture, food, daily life, even conversations about politics, class structure and religion bring the Ancient Greek world alive.
Told through young Nico's eyes, a free man who scribes for Master Ariston the travelling poet, he and his friend Thrax who is the poet's personal slave quickly become involved in a small mystery. Thrax's deductive powers and his careful observations have assisted in solving of other mysteries and he's asked by Master Zeno the gym master to unravel the problem of his stolen dog. When the boys visit his house, Thrax comments on the gruesome floor mosaic depicting a battle between soldiers and centaurs. When the boys return late at night to investigate why the little dog who always barks at strangers was stolen then returned, they discover a hidden secret under the mosaic floor. Soon they come upon a plot to assassinate Pericles the general of Athens and they become deeply embroiled in searching for the evil people behind this. Thrax mysteriously disappears, his cloak found supposedly torn by a lion and Nico even succumbs to an extreme bout of food poisoning. With the help of street urchins and other members of their secret Medusa League Thrax and Nico sneak into the festival at the Acropolis and perform one of their greatest feats.
Shadow of the Centaur is a wonderful historical representation of ancient Athens, filled with recognisable figures like Socrates and Pericles. Pirotta addresses the role of women in society, the structure of the classes and opens the reader's eyes to a new world. Readers who love historical mysteries will enjoy these junior novels and can quickly refer to the glossary and learn about everything from agoras - meeting places to tympanums - tambourines. What a valuable resource for teaching Upper Primary History researching the roles of key groups in Athenian society!