________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 3 . . . . September 30, 2005


The Roman Conspiracy.

Jack Mitchell.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2005.
164 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 0-88776-713-3.

Subject Heading:
Rome-History-Conspiracy of Cateline, 65-62 B.C.-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Mary Thomas.

**** /4

Reviewed from uncorrected proofs.



"Aulus, there is no question of your going to Rome. You have not finished your studies."

That was my Aunt Hercna's voice. It was also her straightforward style. She was pacing up and down the room (well, not pacing---no Roman lady would ever pace, but the closest thing to it) and frowning at me. But she was also running out of excuses."The harvest has hardly begun. It's five days' ride, and who will go with you? I cannot spare the supervisor, not with all these troubles. And think of how expensive it is in the city. Everyone says so. And your uncle is sick, think of him here without you, and ... and you haven't finished your studies!"Her problem was that these were all the reasons why I had to go. If I did not, if no one went, the harvest, the land, my studies, my uncle's well-being---suddenly they were all threatened. But it was not my place to point that out again. My aunt was torn. Maybe she thought I only wanted to see the gladiators at the Circus.And just maybe, on that afternoon, she thought correctly.


The Roman Conspiracy is not your usual Canadian coming-of-age story. There is no teenaged angst involved---in fact, there are practically no teenagers involved, and angst is not something that would have been cultivated in Rome in the first century B.C. Aulus Lucius Spurinna had thought that he would not exchange his boy's toga for that of a man, i.e., come of age, for several months, but the sudden death of his uncle and incursions by bands of retired soldiers onto the estate's holdings made it imperative that he be formally recognized as head of the household. Once he had been so acknowledged, however, Aulus immediately sets off for Rome to inform the family's Protector (who happened to be the Consul Cicero) of the bandits' threats and of his uncle's death/murder. In Rome, accompanied by the Greek slave who had been his uncle's secretary, Aulus meets Cicero and also his enterprising daughter, Tullia, who manages to get him thoroughly involved in their attempt to foil "the Roman conspiracy," that is, a plot to take over the government. There is no time for angst when one is required to burgle the house of a senator, listen and remember the gist of traitorous speeches, and finally take command of a troop of Roman cavalry! Between them, Aulus and Tullia save the day, Rome, and the estates.

     The Roman Conspiracy is a good strong adventure story in the tradition of Rosemary Sutcliffe and Geoffrey Trease, with lots of action, a likable hero, a feisty girl (who actually does most of the thinking as well as a good deal of the acting), and an historical setting about which the reader is unlikely to know a great deal. The slave Homer has his counterparts in the comic characters of literature, those fools who are actually wiser than their masters, and he well deserves the freedom that Aulus gives him at the end of the book. His quick wit and quotations from Hesiod lift the dialogue, which does have a tendency to bog down a bit when he is occupied elsewhere.

     One of the pluses of reading historical fiction is the occasional glimpse of a famous real person, often not really necessary to the plot, but helpful in setting the scene and the times. Julius Caesar slips into this book in a very minor role; his presence here is an amusement and hints of perhaps another adventure to come. He is one of the nice touches that lifts the book from the ordinary to the notable.

Highly Recommended.

Mary Thomas, who was raised on Rosemary Sutcliffe and Geoffrey Trease, is now on leave from her job in elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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