By Simon Scarrow
Published by Puffin Books
ISBN 978 0 141 33363 2
Simon Scarrow's clumsily titled Gladiator: Fight For Freedom is another of the many current debut novels from adult fiction novelists dipping their toe into the youth fiction market.
Scarrow is best known for his "Eagle" series of Roman military adventures set during the period of the second invasion of Britain. Over the past decade, numerous adult fans of historical fiction have been drawn into Scarrow's Roman world, thanks to his thrilling plots and strong cinematic set-piece descriptions of battles and combat.
In his novel for teenagers Scarrow, wisely stays in territory he knows, and Gladiator: Fight For Freedom is a thrilling ride.
We begin on the battlefield. Roman forces have finally quelled the rebellion started by the slave Spartacus, and General Pompeius is surveying the scene of carnage. Suddenly a lone survivor of Spartacus' army attacks the mighty Pompeius, whose life is saved by Centurion Titus Cornelius Pollenius. Pompeius owes Titus big time.
Skip forward 10 years, and Titus is enjoying retirement as a farmer on a small Greek island. His young son Marcus helps out on the farm while learning to train the working dogs. He dreams of becoming a brave soldier like his father.
But then a terrible event shatters young Marcus' life. During a violent skirmish between his father and moneylenders, Titus is murdered.
Marcus and his mother are carried off to be sold into slavery. Marcus manages to escape and stows away on a ship to Italy. He plans to find Pompeius and ask him to save his mother as a favour to a dead man who once saved the general's life.
But things don't turn out quite according to plan. Despite being a Roman citizen, Marcus is captured again as a slave and taken to a gladiator school.
Scarrow really piles on the excitement. Gladiator training for the boy is violent and tough, but Marcus is determined to pull through and survive. What he does not know is that he carries a dangerous secret with him. Why does an older gladiator at the school seem to recognise him, and what is that small branding mark on the boy's back?
Like the famous blockbuster movie of the same name, Gladiator is a potent mix of history and fictional adventure. Scarrow gives his young readers a strong narrative and the writer's flair for cinematic description is just as strong as it is in his writing for adults. Teens who enjoy plot-driven historical adventure will relish Gladiator.
Fight For Freedom is the first title in a promising, top-quality series. The unique atmosphere of Ancient Rome comes memorably alive in the book. Don't miss it.