Gladiator — Fight for Freedom

Written by Simon Scarrow
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

61 BC, Greece. When 10-year-old Marcus’ father is killed, Marcus and his mother are sold into slavery. Marcus is determined to escape and seek justice from his father’s old commander, General Pompeius. He stows away on a ship bound for Italy.

Inevitably, he is discovered and sold to Porcina, who owns a gladiator training school. Marcus’ new life is tough and brutal, governed by strict rules and savage punishments. Fortunately, he is befriended by the old slave, Brixus, who has some thrilling stories to tell of the Spartacan revolt – the revolt in which Marcus’ father saved General Pompeius’ life. But Brixus’ account does not tally with what Marcus’ father told him. Furthermore, it becomes obvious that Brixus knows something about Marcus which Marcus himself doesn’t know and which he’s reluctant to divulge. It’s a secret which would cost Marcus his life, if the Romans should hear of it.

Much as I enjoyed Simon Scarrow’s Roman Eagle books, I confess I was disappointed in Gladiator. I found the young hero two-dimensional and the plot, alas, is pretty predictable. It reads as if there are a number of boxes to be ticked: the fellow captive who hates Marcus’ guts; the punch up where Marcus gets done over; the stitch up to get him into trouble; the savage (and unjust) punishment where he’s rescued at the last minute; the moment of glory in the arena and so on. There’s also an elementary writer’s mistake: too many characters with names beginning with the same letter, in this case P: Porcino, Piso, Pelleneus, Phyrus, Patroclus, General Pompeius, not to mention a V.I.P’s niece whom Marcus rescues, called … Portia.

The book is dedicated to Rosemary Sutcliff – whose surname is misspelt as ‘Sutcliffe’ – which seemed to me to be the last straw. Aimed at boys of 10 plus.