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Full Text Reviews:
School Library Journal - 12/01/2014 Gr 6–9—A fantastical alternate history set in ancient Rome. Nicolas Calva and his sister are slaves in the mines outside of Rome. When Nic is forced to retrieve treasure from Julius Caesar's cave, he assumes he is going to his death. But inside the cave he finds a bulla, a magical amulet thought to have given Caesar great power, and takes it for himself. Suddenly, Nic is the most wanted fugitive in Rome. The emperor and a powerful general are after the amulet and they will kill Nic to get it. His only help is Aurelia, a plebian girl who is searching for her own family. With no one to trust and nowhere to hide, the protagonist must decide how he is going to save his sister and get out with his life. He doesn't want the bulla or the responsibility of the magic it contains, but if the magical object gets into the wrong hands, Rome will be at war and Nic will be at the center of it all. Fans of Nielsen's "Ascendance" trilogy (Scholastic) will be clamoring for this new series. This genre mash-up of history, fantasy, and action/adventure is fast-paced and explores themes such as class struggles, familial ties, and the immorality of slavery. Readers will have lots to digest as they quickly flip through the pages to see how Nic will escape his enemies to become a free man.—Kimberly Garnick Giarratano, Rockaway Township Public Library, NJ - Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.
Booklist - 01/01/2015 Following the successful The False Prince (2012) and its sequels, Nielsen launches a new series, set this time in ancient Rome and featuring another orphan boy with a family mystery. Nic is a slave working in the mines until he is sent down into Julius Caesar’s sealed cavern of treasures to retrieve a magical relic, the bulla. There he finds the bulla but tangles with a protective griffin that is guarding the treasures. So the adventure begins, and in ensuing chapters, Nic is either on the run from or being held captive by those who want both the bulla and Nic’s untapped magic in order to fight for control of Rome. The dialogue, character development, and plotting are not as sure in this outing as in Nielsen’s previous series titles, but the humor remains solid, and the finale includes a memorable showdown. There are two more magical relics to unearth in the coming sequels, while the future of Rome and family relations are decided. Fans of Jaron, Percy, Harry, and Eugenides may be excited by this offering. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Nielsen’s Ascendance trilogy spent considerable time on the New York Times best-seller list, so the start of a new series is big news for her many fans. - Copyright 2015 Booklist.
Bulletin for the Center... - 04/01/2015 Nic has never bowed to his role as a Roman slave: he pretty much only follows the orders that seem logical to him unless his little sister is at risk. This defiance turns out to be a lucky trait when Nic is ordered to find an amulet that belonged to Julius Caesar and give it to a power-hungry general. He does find it, and a frightening griffin guarding it, but decides to try to keep the treasure for himself. Though his determination to save his sister trumps other goals, even he can see that the magical amulet and his own new supernatural powers are highly desired by various political factions and may make him either a pawn or a game-changer. The Imperial Roman setting is impeccably conveyed throughout the book; Nielsen wisely sprinkles historical details in subtle ways so that readers will be able to imagine the context without ever feeling overtly educated about an era. Their attention will be on Nic, who is often foolish and abrasive but who always has noble intentions. There are several other engaging key characters, including Nic’s opportunistic frenemy, Aurelia, who began as his guard, sold him out, and then experienced one of her greatest losses with Nic. Nielsen fans and historical fiction buffs who don’t mind a dose of fantasy mixed in will appreciate this promising start to a new series. AS - Copyright 2015 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.