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Children's LiteratureSlave boy Atticus spies for his master, Lucius Opimius, who fears conspirators will assassinate his best friend, the emperor. Captured during a military raid, Atticus adjusts to his loss of freedom. Because Lucius benevolently protects him, Atticus' life is easier than most slaves who endure brutality and lack control over their destiny. The Greek astrologer Aristide, whom Lucius consults, offers Atticus advice regarding who to trust. Wanting to help Lucius, Atticus eavesdrops and observes people for signs of coups. This novel enables readers to explore vicariously the ancient world. The narrative introduces people representing various social classes and professions. Wealthy aristocrats are mostly depicted as narcissistic, greedy, and cruel. They misuse their power and indulge in excesses. Violence dominates Atticus' environment. Conspirators' bloodthirsty plotting and betrayals fester. Social history details are interesting, but the grotesque realism of some scenes, particularly gladiator battles and animal abuse, might be too much for squeamish readers. Intrigue heightens as Atticus realizes who the most dangerous people are. A historical note mentions Roman contributions present in modern society. The book lacks a bibliography. An explanation of the Latin derivation or historical inspiration for characters' names would have been useful. This novel could complement social studies. Pair it with Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead (2002) to compare the lives of serfs and slaves. Part of "The Life and Times" series. 2004, Scholastic, Ages 8 to 12.
—Elizabeth D. Schafer