Rating: 4 stars
“Mark of the Thief” by Jennifer A. Nielsen is a story that grips the reader from the very first page; the action is nonstop and leaves the reader breathless from a journey through ancient Rome.
Nic, the protagonist, is a slave in mines outside of Rome at the start of the story. He was left there by his mother, who was sold five years earlier. When she left, she told him to take care of his younger sister.
Nic is forced to enter a recently-discovered cave to see if it holds the treasure of Julius Caesar, and he finds an ancient bulla, an amulet that holds magical power. The griffin protecting the treasure scars Nic with her claw, but after he puts the bulla around his neck, they both flee the cave to escape the cave’s collapse.
Now Nic finds that powerful people are determined to find him and take away the magic that he possesses. He must decide whom to trust and how to use his magic.
Fans of Nielsen will love her new series. Her world-building skills are in evidence in the detailed way she describes ancient Rome. Her description of the amphitheater where the gladiators and animals fight to their death is filled with details that use almost all the senses and at times include horrifying images.
Nic is a great hero. He is honest — when he can afford to be. He must decide what is best — but he never does so at the expense of others. He is forthright, loyal, and smart.
There is one major “bad guy” in the story — Radulf — a powerful general who controls the military. It’s Radulf whom Nic overhears in the beginning and who wants the bulla so that he can overthrow Caesar and gain the power of the throne.
Nic and the reader learn about Radulf, who possesses powerful magic of his own. Nielsen slowly divulges information about Radulf’s magic and Radulf’s connection with Nic. Nielsen writes a first person narrative that is believable, and she creates other characters who are not only believable, but likable. When the first book ends, readers will not only recommend this series to their friends, they will also note to get the sequel as soon as it’s available.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Scholastic Press for review purposes.