HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Gladiator: Fight for Freedom
Author: Simon Scarrow
Cover Illustrator: Chris Beatrice
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion, reprinted in 2013
Related website: http://www.disneyhyperionbooks.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 10 – 14
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Scarrow, Simon. Gladiator: Fight for Freedom (published in 2011 by Puffin Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group; republished in 2012 by Disney Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10011). Ten year old Marcus Cornelius Primus lives an idyllic farm life with his father, Titus Cornelius, a retired centurion who had served in the Roman army under General Pompeius during the slave rebellion led by Spartacus (c. 73-71 B.C.), and his mother Livia, a former slave whom Titus had captured, freed, and married, on the Greek isle of Leucas near the town of Nydri. However, times have become hard, and Titus owes a large sum of money to an unscrupulous man named Decimus who sends his thugs to kill Titus and kidnap Livia and Marcus in order that he might recover his debts by selling them into slavery. Livia is sent to hard labor at one of Decimus’ estates in Greece, and, after escaping once but bungling an attempt to stow away on a ship bound for Rome where he wants to seek a hearing with his father’s old commander Pompeius, Marcus ends up owned by a lanista, or trainer of gladiators, named Porcino.
During his training, as he plans his escape from slavery and revenge on Decimus, Marcus incurs the wrath of a Celtic boy named Ferax, also in training, who promises to kill him, but learns from another slave, the cook Brixus, that he carries a dangerous secret which could threaten his life. To entertain Caius Julius Caesar, Porcino plans a bout between Marcus and Ferax, and the winner will face the wolves! What will happen to Marcus? Will he ever be able to find and free his mother? And what is this terrible secret? Set in 59 B.C., Fight for Freedom is a generally well-written story filled with plenty of action, excitement, and suspense, giving a good historical sense of what life in ancient Rome was like, especially for slaves. The “d” and “h” words appear rather frequently, which unfortunately is no longer all that surprising coming from once supposedly “family friendly” Disney, along with “the Gods” and the name of “Hades” as interjections. There are also references to stealing food, although Marcus feels guilty about it, and drinking wine. And a veiled reference to fornication and/or adultery occurs as Julius Caesar says, “I have known a few women in my time.”
However, in his fight with Ferax, Marcus takes the high ground and spares his defeated opponent. And one certainly has to admire his courage and perseverance. Author Simon Scarrow is perhaps best known for his action adventure “Eagle” series for adults which focuses on a pair of Roman Legionaries fighting the good fight for the Emperor during the early years of the first century. With this new series of children’s books, he steps back a century back in time, centering around the years following the Spartacus rebellion. The story is violent by the nature of its subject, but it’s not gratuitous or overly detailed. Other books in the series are Gladiator: Street Fighter 2, in which Marcus is now a member of Julius Caesar’s palace in the city of Rome; Gladiator: Son of Spartacus, in which Caesar wants Marcus to help destroy the bands of rebel slaves and their leader, Marcus’ old friend Brixus; and Gladiator: Vengeance, in which Marcus finally sets out to find his mother. To avoid confusion, note that the ninth novel in Scarrow’s bestselling “Eagle” series is also entitled The Gladiator.