Review: Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Mark of the Thief

From Scholastic: 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.

When Nic, a mining slave, overhears a plot against the Emperor from one of the most powerful men in Rome—General Radulf—he knows he’s in trouble. Caught eavesdropping, Nic is sent down a dangerous mineshaft in search of Caesar’s long-lost treasure, specifically a magical bulla Radulf wants for himself. But when the bulla’s powers mark Nic, he suddenly finds himself in possession of powers he can’t control and, with enemies on all sides, he must fight for his life in the very heart of Rome.

In Mark of the Thief, Jennifer A. Nielsen brings Ancient Rome vividly to life. From the staggering sights of the Colloseum to the awful smells of the Roman sewers, she makes it easy to imagine Nic’s Rome. The city is so fleshed out, it is a character on its own. Once again Nielsen shows her aptitude for world-building and story-telling, blending history seemlessly with fiction, and making legends of Caesar’s divine parentage a believable reality.

One of the things I love about Nielsen’s books is that, even though the main characters are male, her female characters are strong and capable, as is seen in Aurelia, who was exposed to the gutter in infancy. Smart, fiesty and an excellent fighter, Aurelia challenges Nic on every turn. They are well matched.

I admit I didn’t find this book quite as clever as Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, though those were mighty big shoes to fill—there won’t be another Jaron and I need to accept that. But this book holds it own, with a fast pace and a world that it at once awe-inspiring and savage.

Gladiator with a hefty dose of magic, Mark of the Thief is a witty, smart and compelling introduction to a series I’ll definitely be following through to the end. If the Ancient world interests you at all, you’ll want to pick up Mark of the Thief!

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5 hearts)

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