cover image Mark of the Thief

Mark of the Thief

Jennifer Nielsen. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-545-56154-9

In vivid first-person narrative, Nielsen (the Ascendance Trilogy) sketches a slave’s-eye view of the Roman Empire. Five years of hard labor in the mines haven’t quelled Nic’s will to survive. Neither naïve nor a fool, his main weakness is lack of experience. Thus his story is as much about his education in the deviousness of human behavior as it is about Nic’s magical fate. Dropped down a mine shaft to search for a possible buried trove, Nic emerges with a griffin, a scar, and a golden bulla, a magical amulet that once belonged to Julius Caesar. Freedom is within reach, but Nic won’t abandon his younger sister. Instead, he and the griffin are turned over to Rome, where Nic becomes a pawn of schemers struggling to control the city—or destroy it. Set during the reign of Tacitus, the story is true to the political and social culture of the time without committing too closely to its political history. This maximizes Nielsen’s scope for creating page-turning twists while evoking a milieu that retains its appeal for history buffs. Ages 10–14. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Feb.)