Review Detail

Kids Fiction 2402
Could you be a gladiator?
Overall rating 
 
4.5
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
4.0
Ranger is watching soccer with Sadie and Luke when he notices his metal first aid box humming. As he was in Danger on the Oregon Trail, Ranger is transported back in time... this time to ancient Rome. In the Colosseum, he runs into Marcus, and eleven-year-old slave who was sold to Villius, the owner of the Ludus Magnus gladiatorial school, to pay the debts of his parents, who perished in a fire. Marcus is accompanying new gladiator Quintus, and the two have wandered into the big animal area. Ranger manages to save them, and thinks that he will be able to go home, but ends up back at the school with them. Quintus is in big trouble for trying to run away, and is set to fight the vicious Cleto in the next games. Marcus knows that Quintus doesn't stand a chance unless he gets some training, and since Villius won't train him, Marcus does. The two bond, and go to visit Quintus' brother, Gaius, at the family bakery. As they arrive, the realize that the building is on fire, but Ranger once again comes to the rescue. It's still not enough to send him home, however, and soon Quintus is sent to the arena. He is dressed as a retiarius, armed with a net and a trident. The brutal Cletus is a secutor, heavily armored with a sword. Will he survive? And how will Ranger get back to Sadie and Luke?
Good Points
Seeing the world through Ranger's eyes offers a fresh perspective, and is not done in an overly precious way. Instead, Ranger senses danger of which Marcus is only vaguely aware, since Marcus is more concerned with becoming a gladiator himself so that he can eventually earn his freedom. It is interesting that he seems to think that Quintus might not make it, but is strong in his belief that he will! Ranger, who trained to be a rescue dog but was too distracted by squirrels to become certified, is highly motivated to save people when he thinks it is his ticket back to Sadie and Luke!

The plot moves along nicely. with a variety of danger that Marcus and Quintus must confront. The animals under the Colosseum, the wrath of Villius, and the apartment fire, and most of all, Quintus' turn in the arena, are all exciting without being too scary to younger readers.

Ancient Rome is not only part of most middle school social studies curricula, but it is also an era of history that greatly interests young readers. Messner has done a very good job of researching Roman culture, and has added good details of both gladiatorial fighting and daily life. The included bibliography lists a wide range of books for readers to continue their studies.

Danger in Ancient Rome will appeal to readers with many different interests. Children who have read all of the Magic Tree House books and are ready for a slightly more complex book will enjoy this series, as will readers who like books with historical settings or dogs. I can see this book sparking a lot of good summer play in the back yard while readers pretend to be gladiators. While there is a great glossary with different Roman and gladiatorial terms, there isn't the necessary warning-- while pretending to be a gladiator, don't hurt anyone with sticks!
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