The Beggar of Volubilis
March, 81 AD. The emperor Titus is desperate to find the lost emerald, known as Nero’s Eye. According to prophecy, whoever possesses it will rule Rome – and rumours abound that the dead Emperor Nero is very much alive. Titus sends the four friends Flavia, Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus to Volubilis in Roman North Africa to find the emerald.
There is another reason for the friends to go: Flavia’s missing Uncle Gaius was spotted aboard a ship bound for Sabratha, a city on the North African coast. Can they find him and persuade him to come home?
But when they arrive in Sabratha, disaster strikes. The ship, which was to have taken them on to Volubilis, sails without them – taking all their belongings. Somehow, they must travel several thousand miles with no money. They join a pantomime troupe and begin the long trek across the desert –a place full of dangers from slave traders, sandstorms, thirst and mirages. And there’s more: the leader of the troupe, Narcissus, has a hidden agenda – and one which could be politically explosive. The four friends will need all their courage as well as luck to find Gaius and reclaim Nero’s Eye for Titus.
I enjoyed this glimpse into Roman North Africa, called at the time ‘Rome’s bread basket’, though in places the plot was unnervingly reminiscent of Lindsey Davies’s Last Act in Palmyra, complete with travelling theatrical troupe, the hunt for a missing person and people pretending to be who they were not, all in a desert setting (though admittedly a different one). Caroline Lawrence has many young fans and I’m sure they will enjoy this latest adventure – and, at the same time, pick up a lot of information about this less well-known part of the Roman Empire.
This is an adventure story, set in Africa in AD 81. It is very interesting because you honestly don’t know what is going to happen next. The descriptions are very good, and like the rest of the series, it has an excellent plot which, at points, is very dramatic. The author does a very good job of getting you into the story from the very first page. The ending is also very good, because it relates to things at the beginning that I had completely forgotten, such as Flaccus proposing to Flavia. It is a nice surprise.
I don’t think it could be read without reading the previous book in the series, because it keeps referring back to when Miriam died. Also there is no description of the main characters.
I would say this book would appeal to both boys and girls aged 11 to 14.