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.
Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Acsendence Trilogy is a favorite middle grade fantasy series of mine. I devoured every pages of those books appreciating Jennifer A. Nielsen’s writing by simply creating one of the most smart and cunning character I have ever met in middle grade fiction, Sage/Jaron. Jaron easily added to my list of favorite characters together with other thieves like Eugenides of The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, and Neal Caffrey of White Collar TV series. So just imagine what my reaction is when I found out that Jennifer has a new series coming out with a thief for a leading character.
Mark of the Thief is a historical fantasy set in one of the most historically rich place on earth, Ancient Rome. The protagonist, Nic a slave mining outside Rome was forced to go underground to find a bulla that once belonged to Julius Caesar. Nick isn’t eager to do the task because previous miners who went deep into the mine for treasures are either dead or lost their sanity. But without so much choice in the matter, Nic go down and there he find not only Julius Caesar’s golden bulla but other treasure of golds and a griffin guarding it. After some stunts with the griffin, Nic managed to get hold of the bulla and escaped the mine with the griffin before the mine collapsed. His escaped doesn’t last though, because he was later recaptured and was sent back to his master, Sal who later sold him. Before reaching the mines, he also met one of the Romans’ senator Valerius and his son Crispus who informed him that the griffin left a mark on his back and not just a scar like what Nic assumed. A mark that Nic must hide as well as the bulla in order to protect himself from powerful people and savage leaders who will do anything to get their hands on Caesar’s long lost property and its power.
The setting alone makes Mark of the Thief a worth read. Ancient Rome in this novel has a life of its own that you can count it as one of the characters adding more dynamic to the story. Rome is so rich and full of history which the author cleverly use along with her fictional world. Jennifer A. Nielsen’s description of Rome and everything that is happening inside it feels like real history, as if her characters actually lived during those era and we are just reading a new story that was never been told before.
Jennifer A. Nielsen’s writing is as strong as her style in The Ascendance Trilogy. Her plotting skill is top notch making Mark of the Thief a thrilling and engrossing read.
Right from the first page readers will get intrigued with the leading character Nic with his quick-witted mouth and tough personality. Though he isn’t much a plotter like Jennifer’s previous character Jaron, Nic can still win every readers attention. He has his own brand of charm which mostly consist of his stubbornness and high self-esteem. His constant danger situation makes the book thrilling and suspenseful.
Comparing Nic to Jaron is not fair but like other readers of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s works I can’t help but do the same because lets face it, Jennifer previous lead character Jaron is what makes The Ascendance Trilogy so much a hit. Readers of The Ascendance Trilogy love the brilliant, quick-witted and multi-layered Sage/Jaron. He is simply unforgettable. Jennifer successfully weaved a wonderful character in him that I can’t help but hope that her next lead character is as good as Jaron. But unfortunately, Nic fall short. Though Nic is as quick-witted and tough he is not as clever as Jaron. Jaron is a plotter, someone who is always three or more steps ahead in the game, he knows the rules and he can even rewrite them if he thinks it will favor him or his goal. While Nic on the other hand is not a strategist, he has no idea of how to save his own self, the people he care, much less save a whole empire of Ancient Rome. I think a battle between these two, Jaron will surely win even with Nic’s magical power.
But don’t get discourage because even Nic is no Jaron his story is as interesting as others Jeniffer’s books. As I’ve said above, the presence of Ancient Rome alone is a worth reading, throw some adventure, political intrigue, magical amulet, legendary creature and mythology there so much to love in this first installment of Praetor War series. I myself is excited to find out how Jennifer will weave those intricate details of political war, mythology and adventure into a bigger plot.
Overall, Mark of the Thief is a wonderful start to a new fantasy story from Jennifer A. Nielsen. With its historically rich and beautiful setting, ingenious plot and beautiful writing Jennifer Nielsen successfully deliver a new fantasy series to follow. Fans of The Ascendence Trilogy will surely enjoy this new offering from the master plotter herself.
*This review is based on a copy I received courtesy of the publisher, Sholastic Press Philippines in exchange for an honest opinion.