I received this book for free from Pinoy Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Praetor War #1
Published by Scholastic Press on February 24, 2015
Genres: Mythic Fantasy, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Young Adult
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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.
I am a huge mythology buff so when I read the description of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s novel Mark of the Thief, which is the first novel of a new series originally logged as having the same name, but now with the title of Praetor Wars, and saw that not only did it take place in Imperial Rome, but it featured magic related to the Roman pantheon, I was immediately intrigued. And I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy of the book, which I all but tore through after dinner on a Sunday evening. Three hours later, I knew I was going to want to read the next installment, I enjoyed it that much.
Not that I was expecting to, when I started it. I will admit it took me some time to get behind the main character, Nic. He just didn’t seem jaded or victimized enough to have been raised a slave all his life, not to me, at least. And it didn’t help that I found myself comparing him to another mine slave main character (Mags, from Mercedes Lackey’s The Herald Spy and Collegium Chronicles series), whose emotions and journey of self-discovery and heroism seemed much better defined from the get-go. But my personal feelings about Nic didn’t really seem to hamper my need to keep turning the pages on this book as it’s action-packed from the first to the last chapter.
It was perhaps around a fourth of the way through the book that I really started believing in Nic and thinking that not only could he pull off the herculean tasks set before him and navigate through the very convoluted intrigues and political environment Nielsen painted him into. The story was full of twists and turns, making me question which other characters to put my faith in, making me wonder what other curve balls fate could throw Nic’s way. I was at times disappointed in the supporting characters—the fierce warrior girl Aurelia, the seemingly honorable yet mysterious Crispus, the fiercely determined Valerius, and the possibly misguided Felix—and at others set on cheering them on.
The way these characters alternated between being trustworthy and suspicious made me appreciate how Nic must have felt, never knowing who to trust or turn to, always wondering what they really wanted in exchange for his support and cooperation. And while I was just a little disappointed at the seemingly one-dimensional motives of the villains in the story (the power-hungry General Radulf, for example, seems to be your run-of-the-mill megalomaniac, and another person who later in the book turns out to be little more than an anarchist), I was nevertheless kept guessing all the way through to the end. And if the final plot twist seemed to come a little too far out of left field and maybe a little bit Star Warsy (and that’s all I’ll say on the matter), I still look forward to seeing how this development is handled in the succeeding books.
If there’s one thing that can be said about this book, it’s that it isn’t at all boring. As the start to a new series, it certainly fulfills the task on getting a reader hooked, thanks to adrenaline-charged scenes and a whole lot of political intrigue. I cannot wait to read the next books, and I hope that these will offer a deeper immersion into Nielsen’s view of Rome as well as more insight into both the magics Nic holds.