“Gladiator is a good book, it’s violent, lots of blood and killing people. It is suitable for 9 and over children and has some hard words in it. I want to read on and I hope it will be as good as I think it will be.”
These are the words of Connor, a very competent reader and Year 5 student after reading the prologue to Gladiator, the first in a new series set in the first century BC by British author Simon Scarrow.
As Connor’s teacher, I was a little concerned about the level of graphic violence in the opening to the novel. Having said this, the violence needs to be taken in historical context, as these were extremely hard and cruel/merciless times, especially if you were unfortunate enough to be born into slavery.
Marcus, the young hero of the novel is dealt a number of cruel blows early on in the story. This sets the scene for his epic journey across land and sea to avenge the fate of his parents at the hands of Decimus, a former associate of Titus, Marcus’ father. Decimus is a ruthless tax collector and the “Town Father” of Stratos, on the western coast of Greece.
Formerly known in ancient times as Stratus, its ruins are near an ancient amphitheatre, an acropolis and the Temple of Zeus. While not central to the story, the novel’s setting also lends itself well to the study of Ancient Greece, its geography and social structure.
There are a number of intriguing links and twists in the plot that kept me wanting to read on, and I am sure this would add to its appeal for young avid readers such as Connor, as well as more reluctant readers mainly in the Upper Primary-Lower Secondary range.
At first I thought the story a welcome respite from the well-worn contemporary social-realistic genre, though it could also be read as an historical study of how families and individuals are affected by the social constructs of their time. In fact, in the author study included in the teaching notes to Gladiator, Simon Scarrow states that he seeks to “reflect daily military life in an ancient world, which he believes is similar in many ways to our own”. This novel could also be used in conjunction with a unit on the origins of democracy, the role of the military and questions of social justice.
The final twist in the novel causes Marcus to both question his motivation at the beginning of his epic quest for justice and which leads him to redefine it. It also leads us cleverly to the second novel in the series, which will be released in 2012. Simon Scarrow is a skilled writer of historical fiction and I very much look forward to its publication.