Title: Circus Maximus: Race to the Death
Author: Annelise Gray
Publisher: Zephyr (Head of Zeus)
Release Date: March 4th, 2021
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I was approved to review a digital review copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This review will be cross-posted on NetGalley and Goodreads.
Circus Maximus, the greatest sporting stage of the ancient Roman world, where the best horses and charioteers compete in a race to the death, and one girl dreams of glory. Ben Hur meets National Velvet in the ultimate 9-12 adventure story by debut children’s author, Annelise Gray.
Twelve-year-old Dido dreams of becoming the first female charioteer at the great Circus Maximus. She’s lost her heart to Porcellus, a wild, tempestuous horse she longs to train and race. But such ambitions are forbidden to girls and she must be content with helping her father Antonius – the trainer of Rome’s most popular racing team, The Greens – and teaching the rules of racing to Justus, the handsome young nephew of the Greens’ wealthy owner. When her father is brutally murdered, she is forced to seek refuge with an unlikely ally. But what of her dream of Circus triumphs and being reunited with the beloved horse she left behind in Rome? And the threat to her life isn’t over as she faces a powerful and terrifying new enemy… the emperor Caligula.
The Book Review
Thank you Zephyr and Head of Zeus for granting me this ARC! I was really intrigued by the mix of action, mystery and history this novel presented. I wasn’t disappointed!
What I Liked
First of all, this book if chock full of historical details that I absolutely loved. The author did a really good job at picking out tiny facts and building upon them. And as someone born and bred in Rome like me, I could trace Dido’s steps from memory. Lots of people will love this meticulous care—I know I did!
The racing scene were gorgeous. They were full of action, movement and adrenaline. I was catapulted right in the moment and they kept me at the edge of my seat! And like with everything else, Annelise Gray managed to keep beautifully true to history. I learnt about chariot racing as I held my breath with each of Dido’s chariot’s turns.
This book kept surprising me. I really enjoyed how it seamlessly incorporates mystery and intrigue in a story that was predominantly action-based. It added an extra layer to the story, giving it depth and sustaining my interest even when there wasn’t as much breakneck racing to be had.
Lastly, Dido is a good heroine and role model. Driven, hardy and patient (and stubborn!), she is sure to inspire younger readers to chase their dreams no matter what! And Caligula is deliciously unsettling, making a great villain.
What I Liked a Little Less
I felt that the pacing of the middle chapters was somewhat staggered. Although we get a lot of Dido’s personality, we don’t get as much in terms of motivations. Does she want to live peacefully, avenge her father, get Porcellus back, race at the Circus? She achieves all of those things by the end, but there wasn’t a clear push towards any in the middle, I feel.
On a minor note, I felt that the naming of the horses was inconsistent (and a little weird?). It was strange, if not a little jarring, having a horse called Incitatus, or Perdix, alongside another called Snowy, or Thunder. Perhaps my Latin is failing me, but why would a horse be called “Little Pig” (Porcellus)?
Would I recommend this book? Yes.
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