Nic wasn’t always a slave in the mines of the Roman Empire. He remembers when his mother sold him and his sister to the wicked overseer, Sal. He determines to escape one day, and gives himself a freedman’s name, Nic Calva, to prove to himself he won’t be a slave forever.
One day he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and is forced to complete a dangerous assignment. He’s sent after Julius Caesar’s childhood bulla. This jewel has magical powers, and Nic escapes the mine on the back of a griffin, which was guarding Caesar’s treasure.
This act of thievery sets Nic on an adventure he cannot anticipate. He makes alliances with Roman Senators, finds himself fighting in the amphitheater, and in the middle of the Praetor War. Both sides want to use Nic and his new powers to fight on their side.
I find it interesting how Jennifer A. Nielsen (also author of the False Prince trilogy) weaves together magic, Roman myths and religious belief in the gods with real life. At first I couldn’t believe that the griffin was actually real – I thought it was a figment of Nic’s imagination. But Nielsen treats all of it as fact: mythical creatures, magical powers and wars between the gods. It’s interesting to follow the logic of the characters’ beliefs and actions.
Highly recommended for ages 14 and up.