In the Shadow of Heroes

Written by Nicholas Bowling
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1st-century AD, Rome. The power-crazed Emperor Nero is determined to get his hands on the fabled Golden Fleece, and his armed guards will stop at nothing to get him what he wants. He forces the aged senator, Tullus, to go to Athens and bring it back. Tullus’s slave, fourteen-year-old Cadmus, and a scary Celtic girl, Tog, have information Tullus doesn’t know, and they must get to Athens first and talk to the mysterious sibyl. Cadmus is reluctant to go, and Tog only wants to get back to Britannia.

We gradually realize that the blind Athenian priestess, Eriopis, knows more about Cadmus than she lets on; there are long-held secrets which, if Nero discovered them, would threaten Cadmus’s own life.

I enjoyed this book, especially the tetchy relationship between Cadmus and the largely silent Tog, who seems to exist on another wavelength. Cadmus has much to learn – a slave is not expected to have opinions, let alone make his own decisions – but, gradually, he learns to adopt the Stoic Tullus’s philosophy of enduring the hard times, and begins to make decisions for himself. Tog, meanwhile, who is descended from the royal house of the Catuvellauni in Britannia, has her own problems.

The back cover of the book describes it in three words: History, Mythology, Adventure. All this is true, but it’s about something else, too: the importance of creating your own family, who may or may not be related to you, and of finding your own quest in life and following your own star. We leave Cadmus pondering on the possibilities of new adventures and discovering other ancient artefacts from the Greek legends.

Recommended for readers of 11 plus.