Mark of the Thief, Book 1

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Mark of the Thief, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Exciting kickoff to fantasy series in ancient Rome.

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Daily life in ancient Rome, especially for mining slaves. Inner workings of the Coliseum. Latin vocabulary, some with definitions and some with context clues. Aqueduct and sewer system briefly explained. Mythological story of the founding of Rome. The role of Praetors in society.

Positive Messages

Emotions are unpredictable and hard to control; you can't help how you feel, but you can help how you react and respond to powerful feelings. Help and sacrifice for your loved ones and orphans.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nic sacrifices his own safety, staying in harm's way so he can find his sister and keep his promise to always look after her. He saves the life of an odious character who mistreated him and is unwilling to save the Roman Empire at the cost of blurring the line between right and wrong. Aurelia's a strong, independent female character who can hold her own in a fight, does what she believes is right, and helps orphans survive in the sewers. Villains Radulf and Sal are cruel and ambitious, stopping at nothing to achieve their goals.

Violence & Scariness

The narrator Nic is frequently in peril, usually in a fight for his life but once in danger of drowning. Scary fantasy violence involving large-scale confrontations in the Coliseum arena. Spears, arrows, and swords wound; wild animals attack people and are hunted. Blood and injuries are mentioned but not described in detail. Pain is described in detail. Slaves are whipped a few times. A few fights include punching, kicking, and slamming into walls; some involve magical abilities.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mark of the Thief kicks off a planned fantasy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen, the veteran YA author of the Ascendance trilogy. The setting is ancient Rome, and there's a lot of historical accuracy but with griffins and an altered time line. Kids will learn a lot about the culture of Rome, including the obsession with watching people die in the arena and the harsh treatment of slaves. Most of the violence involves fantasy and magic and mentions blood without describing it, but there are detailed descriptions of pain from injuries. Nic, a slave who discovers a magic amulet, is frequently fighting for his life. He and plebian girl Aurelia, who's seraching for her family, are strong role models who think of others and do what's right, even at great cost to themselves.

User Reviews

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  • Kids say

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Teen, 17 years old Written byQwertykey January 2, 2020
A fairly interesting book. Nicholas is a daring character, and I enjoyed reading this book.
Teen, 15 years old Written byequinox April 25, 2019

Entertaining read; you learn quite a bit

I read this book (as well as the two other books) a couple of years ago (maybe when I was 12 or 13). This first book actually taught me a lot about Roman life,... Continue reading

What's the story?

Nic is a slave in the mines just outside Rome. When a new shaft is uncovered in the mine, a powerful general appears and sends Nic down into it in search of Julius Caesar's lost treasure. Alone in the total darkness, Nic finds a cave with a fierce griffin protecting a magical amulet that surely belonged to the great Caesar himself. When Nic makes it out of the cave, he learns that the griffin gave him a mysterious magical mark on his shoulder. The most powerful, ruthless men in the empire are now after the amulet, too, and are determined to kill anyone with a mark like Nic's. Can Nic keep the amulet from falling into the hands of the traitorous General Radulf and protect his loved ones? One wrong decision could mean the end of the empire as well as his own life, but whom can Nic trust?

Is it any good?

MARK OF THE THIEF is an exciting, action-packed fantasy that will keep the pages turning. Kids will easily relate to Nic's struggles to cope with new, powerful, and scary emotions and will root for Nic as he holds the fate of the empire on a string around his neck. Older readers and fantasy veterans may not be surprised by much -- some turns are predictable and formulaic -- but still will enjoy going along for the thrills and excitement. The ending is a real cliffhanger that will leave readers excited about the next installment and intrigued about what happens next.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why books with fantasy and magic are so popular. What do we love about them?

  • What other fantasy books have you read? How does this one compare? Which is your favorite?

  • Will you read the next book in the series? What do you think will happen to Nic, Aurelia, and the Roman Empire?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and adventure

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