Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Length: 352 pages
Source: Gifted ARC
Nic may have escaped enslavement in the mines outside of Rome, but his troubles are far from over. The Praetor War--the battle to destroy Rome from within--is in full force, and Nic is caught in the crossfire. The secretive Praetors are determined to unlock a powerful amulet--one sure to bring the empire to its knees. Worse, the Praetors believe Nic holds the key to finding this amulet, and they will stop at nothing to steal it, even if that means harming the people Nic holds most dear.
When the Praetors capture Nic's mother, Nic knows he must do anything to save her. He challenges the Praetors to a chariot race. If he wins, they will release his mother. But if he loses, he must hand over a magic that will certainly destroy Rome and end his own life. Can Nic once again harness his magic and gather the strength to defeat his enemies? Or will he lose his mother and bear witness to Rome's destruction?
Protagonist: Nic is once again a prisoner, a well fed and pampered one, but a prisoner nonetheless. He now lives in his newly discovered grandfather's house and is training his chariot riding skills as he tries to think of a way for his sister Livia and him to escape and leave the Roman Empire behind, and with any luck take some friends along. Nic is still the cunning and defiant boy we met in the first installment, but he's grown and changed since then, his instincts are sharper, his judgement, while still not the best, is better. He's still cares very deeply for his friends and family, almost to a fault. Over the course of this book he learns some hard lessons, and grows and matures even more. I love the character of Nic so much, he's relateable and real, he has flaws, makes mistakes, but learns from them to better himself for the future.
Romance: Unlike the previous installment, the romance in this book is much more prevalent. I was actually shocked by how much romance is in this book, and it's done so well. I really root for Nic and Aurelia to be together and I understand completely why they don't just get together right away. It's amazing how this author writes romance, it's not the "can't eat, can't sleep," near obsessive love of some YA books, it's realistic, wholesome, and it's paced perfectly in this series.
World-Building: So, if you thought Radulf was a bad guy, you ain't seen nothing yet. There are far fiercer enemies in this world and some have more power than you can imagine. The world-building really grows exponentially in this book. The consequences of Nic's actions in the first book are really clearly drawn out here and it's not hard at all to see where this series will probably end. The divine power of the gods isn't just something talked about and seen through the bulla or divine star in this book, no, in this book the power of the gods is a real threat. I can't believe how much this world gets expanded in this book, it's amazing and I loved every second of it.
Predictability: The most surprising thing about this book was how predictable it was, maybe I'm just wising up to Nielsen's foreshadowing but even so I loved every twist and turn even if I saw it from a mile away. There are plans once again that Nic tries to keep from the reader, until that moment where he can reveal it for the maximum effect. However, there was a lot of foreshadowing so even though there were times when I was genuinely surprised by what happens, there were probably just as many times, if not more, where I knew exactly what he was going to do, but I didn't care, everything was just as entertaining and I never felt a groan even begin to form in my throat as this book twisted and turned.
Ending: For those hoping for a happy or plateaued ending that lead into an easy to foresee happy future for all our main characters, well I have some bad news. This book ends with an epic final battle that's half combat and magic and half strategy and debate. There are bits of foreshadowing of things to come that all lead to an epic and heart-wrenching cliffhanger that only went to prove my prediction that the wait for the third and final book in this epic trilogy will be agony!
Was this really a surprise? Probably not. I loved this book for so many reasons, it was near impossible to put down and I was excited to see that even if Nielsen isn't all that unpredictable I still love her stories and I seriously cannot wait until I have book 3 in my hands!