Gladiator: Street Fighter by Simon Scarrow, published by Puffin on 2nd February 2012
Now a member of Julius Caesar’s palace, Marcus’s training continues in the city of Rome. The streets are plagued by vicious gang war attacks, and Caesar must employ his own gang leader, who learns of a plot to murder him.
Only Marcus can go in undercover. But he’s in terrible danger. If the rival gang discover him the price will be fatal. Julius Caesar’s isn’t the only life at risk...
This is the sequel to the bestselling 'Gladiator: Fight For Freedom' and is the second book in the series.
The book follows Marcus who has been sold into slavery and now finds himself under the command of Julius Caesar. Assigned to be Caesar's niece's bodyguard, he's also being trained to become a gladiator of the future. However, what Marcus wants more than anything else is to gain his freedom and that of his mother while trying to conceal the secret of his true heritage from Caesar himself.
Simon Scarrow brilliantly imagines the political intrigue and brutality of life in Ancient Rome. Slaves are brought and sold by the rich without any thought to the fact that they're human beings too and people are used as pawns in political mind games. The two factions of Julius Caesar on one side and Cato on the other are clearly depicted and Scarrow has obviously done his research well, as I found it easy to imagine myself in a bygone era where power is shared among the wealthy and influential, sometimes at the cost of other peoples' lives.
What really sold this book to me though was the central character of Marcus. He's tough, resiliant, determined and intelligent. Born free, he has been robbed of his freedom and is set on winning it back, willing to do whatever he has to do to achieve his goal. I warmed to him immediately and found myself experiencing all of the highs and lows he goes through right alongside him. Scarrow also gives a voice to the many other slaves who feature in the book, humanising them and showing them as real human beings with thoughts and feelings and cares of their own. Strong bonds are established between many of them, although for those whose lives are tough, death is often shown to be a welcome release.
Cleverly combining rich historical details of the period with an entertaining and enjoyable story, this book will particularly appeal to male readers who like their boy heroes tough and courageous. Having invested in Marcus's adventure, I can't wait to see where his journey will take him next!