Circus Maximus: Race to the Death is a thrilling, heart-racing adventure which transported me back to Ancient Rome where courage and skill, danger and foul play are the order of the day in its greatest sporting arena: the Circus Maximus. Whilst the backdrop is the explosive excitement of the racing world, the beating heart at its epicentre is that of an incredible young girl, a girl with the courage and tenacity to fight for her seemingly unreachable dreams.
Twelve-year-old Dido helps her father who is the head trainer for Rome’s most popular chariot racing team. She harbours an ambition to become the first female charioteer to compete at the Circus Maximus. Finding herself the proud owner of a young, wild stallion, Porcellus, with whom she forms a strong bond of friendship and trust, she hopes that he will help her fulfil her racing dream. However, her dream is shattered when tragedy strikes: her beloved father is murdered, and Dido finds herself running for her life … and leaving her hope of racing with Porcellus behind her.
Escaping to Carthage, she has a chance encounter with an old acquaintance of her father, Scorpus who maintains his links with the Circus Maximus by training charioteers and horses for the arena. When her father’s employer, the owner of the Green Faction, visits Scorpus, she makes a shocking discovery that leads her onto a dangerous path, a path to uncover lies, treachery and betrayal, and one which sees her face powerful and cruel enemies. Will Dido be reunited with the horse of her heart, and find a way to fulfil her dream? Will she unearth the truth behind her father’s brutal murder?
I was completely fascinated by this ancient world which is so richly drawn and, in particular, the world of charioteer racing. I had no idea of the danger, excitement and fury that exudes from the arena where both spectators and participants are embroiled in a frenetic competition that really did have my heart pounding. The willingness to win at all costs, to endanger others and to resort to foul play made this doubly exciting (and made me quite vocal at times!) as I was never sure of how far the Emperor, the owners, the charioteers or, indeed, the crowd would go in pursuit of success: race to the death is entirely apt! I really liked that real people of the time were included such as the arrogant and cruel Emperor Caligula, even though I detested him!
At the heart of this remarkable historical adventure is the story of a courageous, strong and resilient young girl who is a brilliant role model for female empowerment, fighting for her place in a male-dominated and cutthroat sport. I have to mention the depth of Dido’s bond with the horses in this story which is beautifully and sensitively portrayed; the horses are wonderful characters within the story and, at times, my heart ached for them, but I also admired their strength and grace.
Circus Maximus: Race to the Death is a gripping, action-packed historical adventure, brimming with palpable excitement, danger and recklessness that made this an engrossing, edge-of-your-seat reading adventure. It is also a story of being true to yourself, of lioness-hearted courage and of an extraordinary heroine. I can’t wait for the next adventure in this series!
Thank you to Fritha Lindqvist and Zephyr Books for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.