My children read The Ides of April by Mary Ray for school a couple of weeks ago. This week, we started reading Beyond the Desert Gate aloud. After I read the first couple of chapters, I noticed on the cover that it was the sequel to The Ides of April, so I thought I’d better go back and read the first book.
I am so glad I did! Both books are set during the Roman Empire, near the end of Nero’s reign as empire (The Ides of April) and a few years after his death (Beyond the Desert Gate).
Any bibliophile who enjoys mysteries will enjoy The Ides of April. Hylas, a Greek slave, narrowly escapes prison after his master is brutally murdered one night. His fellow slaves, including his mother, are hauled off to a Roman prison. Under Roman law, if a slave is found guilty of killing his master, all the household slaves are executed too. Hylas finds help in unexpected places to find the real murderer and free his mother and friends, but not before he himself is captured and receives a severe flogging.
The tension and plot of The Ides of April will keep you turning the pages. But while you read, you’ll also get glimpses into the daily life of Romans of various stations – from slaves to freedmen to the mysterious followers of ‘the Way’ (as early Christians were called).
Beyond the Desert Gate continues Hylas’ story. Several years have passed since The Ides of April. A Greek family living west of the Jordan River rescue a nearly dead man from the side of the road. Roman soldiers had been tortured and strung out to die in the sun. The 14-year-old boy of the house, Philo, names the rescued man Xenos. As a result of the trauma, Xenos has lost his memory. But Philo still feels an instant bond to this strange man. After several severe tragedies strike Philo’s family, Xenos proves himself helpful to the family and a true friend, especially after he recovers his memory. Beyond the Desert Gate is more Philo’s story than Xenos’s, and a coming-of-age story rather than a murder mystery.
But no matter which genre you prefer, both The Ides of April and Beyond the Desert Gate are definitely worth reading.