Mark of the Cyclops: An Ancient Greek Mystery

Written by Freya Hartas (illus.) Saviour Pirotta
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Classical Athens. Nico, a thwarted writer, is secretary to Master Ariston, a professional poet and singer. Thrax is Ariston’s personal slave, an intelligent and observant boy desperate to gain his freedom. When Ariston takes them both by ship to Corinth, Thrax works out which of the two quarrelling crew members is guilty, and the captain and Nico are impressed.

Ariston has been hired to perform at the wedding of the rich merchant Zenon’s daughter. But things do not go smoothly. An expensive vase, bought specially for the ceremony, is broken. Zenon blames the slave girl, Gaia, and vows to sell her. Zenon’s younger daughter, Fotini, is upset; Gaia has been with her since childhood. She, too, has noticed that Thrax is good at picking up clues and she begs him and Nico to discover who broke the vase, and why.

The friends soon discover that there’s more to the mystery than one broken vase. A gang of thieves are operating a crime ring and the cryptic Cyclops’ design on other vases indicates something important—but what?

I enjoyed Mark of the Cyclops; I love the way the author introduces the playwright Euripides and brings in characters from Greek mythology in an entirely natural way. We learn a lot about Greek pottery making, Greeks customs, religion and mythology—all woven in seamlessly and painlessly. I particularly like the way that the author doesn’t shy away from using correct Greek names for things, like chiton’, ‘aulos’ and ‘trireme’, and uses the context to make the words clear. There is also a useful Glossary at the back.

Freya Hartas’s lively and informative illustrations help the reader to see what places, objects and people would have looked like. I’m looking forward to more Nico and Thrax Ancient Greek Mysteries. For 8 plus.