Scarrow, Simon. Fight For Freedom.
Release date 24 April 2012
(Which shows bad planning. Why not 21 April, the anniversary of the founding of Rome?)
Marcus has a good life on his father's Roman farm until his father refuses to repay a loan and beats up the goons sent by the debt collector, Decimus. Decimus later retaliates by having Marcus' father, a former Centurion, killed, and Marcus and his mother enslaved. Marcus manages to escape being sent to a remote farm with his mother, but after he stows away on a ship in order to get to Rome, he is sold to Porcino, a lanista who wants to train him as a gladiator. Life in the training school is hard for Marcus, who at eleven is far younger and smaller than the other fighters. He makes an enemy of the Celtic Ferax, but has allies in the cook Brixus, the simple minded but kind Phyrus, and the street savvy slave Pelleneus. Marcus is determined to break free and find his father's commander and explain what has happened to his mother, but he struggles to survive training and the beatings of Ferax. The feud between the two draws the attention of men planning a private fight, and Ferax and Marcus end up in a fight to the death. After Marcus wins and defiantly refuses to kill Ferax, he is pitted against wolves in the arena. Portia, the neice of Julius Caesar, is in the front row of spectators and falls into the arena. Marcus saves her, and is bought by Caesar. Before he heads to Rome, however, Brixus shows up and tells him shocking news about Marcus' past. Will he be able to use this knowledge to save his mother? We'll find out in (SQUEE!) Street Fighter.
Strengths: Why aren't there more books on Ancient Rome and gladiators written for boys? Michael Ford's Fire of Ares series has been hugely popular, and this time period is not only fascinating to boys, it's part of our 7th grade curriculum. Fight for Freedom is absolutely brilliant, with great descriptions of life at the time as well as fighting, intrigue, and a great mystery of identity! I am buying at least two copies, and am reading this author's adult novels to see if they will be appropriate for middle school. (Which they seem not to be. Opened one to random page, and it was like stepping into a farm field of f-bomb cow patties. Sigh.)
Weaknesses: Eleven seems very young for such adventures. Must be a British thing. Some of the spies in Muchamore's Cherub series are nine.
Because this blog is aimed at librarians and patrons of school libraries, I will not review books that are published solely in e-book formats or that are self published. Books should fall within the target demographics of this blog.