~posted by Cady Anderson, Guest blogger
Mark of the Thief (Book I) by Jennifer A. Nielsen
“Ms. Nielsen, what do you find enjoyable about writing and what do you find difficult?” These were the questions I wanted answers to when I meet Ms. Nielsen at a small independent bookstore in my hometown. In her eloquent and enthusiastic response, she compared writing to a jigsaw puzzle. This is evident in intricate crafting of the characters and plot in her most recent publication, Mark of the Thief.
In Ancient Rome, slaves were used to build up the empire, serve the Senators, and provide gruesome entertainment as gladiators. It is in this world where Jennifer Nielsen combines magic, carefully conducted research, adventure, and sarcasm to deliver a heart-pounding adventure tale. The protagonist, Nic, is a slave working in the mines outside of Rome. As a slave, Nic is subject to the whims and wishes of his master and those who have enough money to purchase his life. More than anything Nic wishes to be free along with his sister, Livia. But Nic’s life is forever changed when he discovers a bulla, an amulet containing magic that once belonged to Julius Caesar. With the bulla, Nic believes his quest for freedom can become a reality, but there are powerful Roman leaders who would kill to attain the bulla. Nic is then thrown into a journey that includes a mythical griffin, new friends, the grandeur and danger of Rome, the powers of magic, and the legendary arena.
As with her previous series, The Ascendance Trilogy, Nielsen’s strength lies in the characters she creates. Nic is sarcastic, defiant and courageous, brave yet vulnerable, and wicked clever. His sarcastic humor often elicited a smirk from me and is what draws me to the character; for example, “ ‘Tolerated?” I snorted. “If near starvation, beatings, and dangerous assignments were tolerance, then yes, Sal had been excessively generous to me.”
For readers of The Ascendance Trilogy, passages like that one are reminiscent of Sage, the protagonist of that series. Fans of Sage should definitely read Mark of the Thief. But fans should also be aware, the element of magic in Mark of the Thief provides a different reading experience – at times the role magic plays can be confusing, the plot requires a greater suspension of belief and, in my opinion, is not quite as strong as the plot of The Ascendance Trilogy. Having said that, the pace picks up considerably in the last third of the book and I am now eagerly awaiting the next installment. Nielsen’s work will always make it on my “to-read” list.