Blood Oath (Gladiator School: Book 1)

A story set in Ancient Rome with many contemporary echoes. Lucius’s world disintegrates when his father, Aquila, disappears having been accused of being a traitor. The family is forced to leave their villa and are helped by Uncle Ravilla. Quintus, Lucius’s elder brother, becomes a trainee gladiator and Lucius becomes a messenger at the Gladiator School. Only Lucius believes in his father’s innocence. With the help of Isidora, a slave, he attempts to find Aquila.

The theme of family upheaval is common to much of children´s fiction today. Lucius can no longer recognise Quintus in the focused gladiator he has become and in his anger against his father. His mother is “slowly but surely losing her grip on sanity” in the cruel words of Ravilla. The contrast between past and present circumstances is well captured. The friendship between Lucius and the Egyptian slave Isidora is well developed and as a reader I really cared about them.

Blood Oath gives a vivid picture of Ancient Rome and doesn't shy away from the ferocity of the gladiator arena or the reality of death (two of the gladiators die). The gladiatorial terms are explained at the bottom of relevant pages. There are descriptions of the various warriors and coloured pictures of them at the end of the book. The first chapter of the next in the series (due September 2013) is given at the end of the book and I felt it would have made a better final chapter for book 1. That quibble apart, it is a good story with unusual background and is suitable for upper primary school.