Beyond the Wall
In 4th-century Roman Britain, 15-year-old Cassia is a slave in the household of Titus Cornelius Festus. After he tries to rape her, Cassia attacks him and bites off his ear. She makes her escape but is forced to leave Rufus, her younger brother, behind. Vulnerable and alone, she heads for Londinium, where she meets the enigmatic Roman trader, Marcus Aquila. For reasons of his own, he offers to help her. Frightened of what will happen if her master catches up with her, Cassia has no choice but to accept Marcus’s offer. With his help, she becomes the servant of a physician and for a time she is safe. Cassia decides to rescue her brother Rufus and, once again, Marcus offers to help. Their actions lead to unrest amongst slaves throughout the province of Britannia, and they are hunted by Titus and the Roman authorities. To escape, they head north to the free tribal lands beyond Hadrian’s Wall where Cassia discovers her true heritage and where Marcus has to face up to his past and make a choice about his future.
The story is set against the historical backdrop of the Great Conspiracy of AD 367, when Imperial slaves revolted against their masters. It is told from the viewpoints of Cassia, Marcus and a shaman who we later learn is the now grown-up Rufus. In places the story is a little far-fetched and the ending is left open and unsatisfying, but Cassia is a feisty heroine and Marcus is an ambiguous and flawed hero. The pace never lets up and a sense of danger is ever present. The book draws a harsh picture of Britannia in the late Empire and the subject matter—slavery, foreign occupation and materialism—is very topical. This is an engrossing and enjoyable read for older teenagers.