Goodreads: Mark of the Thief
Series: Mark of the Thief #1
Published: Feb. 2015
When Julius Caesar’s treasure is found in a mine outside Rome, the race to claim his bulla, believed to be imbued with powers from the gods, begins. Nic, a slave in the mines, is sent to retrieve it, and finds himself the unwitting recipient of new magical powers. Now wanted by every political figure in Rome, Nic will have to learn how to navigate a world of intrigue if he is to save the empire from rebellion, rescue his sister from slavery, and preserve his own life.
I began Mark of the Thief with low expectations since it opens with one of the literary stereotypes I find most annoying–the sarcastic and rebellious slave who suffers few consequences, if any, for disobedience. The story may take place in a fantasy world, but my suspension of disbelief goes only so far and I find it extremely difficult to believe that a slave who introduces himself as one who only obeys orders he thinks worthwhile is a slave who would have lasted very long in a Roman mine. Much less a slave who constantly talks back to his cruel master and tries to make him look foolish. Only once the plot progressed and the protagonist Nic escaped the mine could I truly invest myself in his story.
The book begins with what no doubt many readers consider a real attention-grabber–the discovery of Julius Caesar’s treasure hoard, in which lies an artifact, Caesar’s bulla, that will enable the wielder to control all of Rome. However, I found myself not very interested in the struggle to gain possession of the bulla and indeed thought the story read very much like any standard fantasy; not having read the Ascension trilogy, I actually began to wonder if Nielsen’s work isn’t over-rated. Expected plot “twists,” the introduction of cliche character types (for example, the unfriendly girl whom the protagonist likes and who will shortly become his ally, later presumably his lover), and some somewhat clunky dialogue calculated to provide fast and easy exposition all contributed to make me think that Mark of the Thief would be a book I would have to force myself through.
Fortunately, the plot begins to pick up and some real twists are introduced. I almost began to feel interest in what would occur next. The characters still do not interest me–I have little sympathy for characters who are mean to everyone or only out for themselves, feeling their backstories do not give them the right to hurt others–but, for now, the intrigue is enough to keep me reading.
The end of the book is easily the strongest part of the story. The need to create a world and set up roles of the characters seemed to hold the story back, but with all that out of the way, I think we can expect a sequel full of action and intrigue. Mark of the Thief does not stand out to me as a particularly memorable fantasy, but it is solid enough to satisfy fantasy fans and its conclusion suggests better fare could be on the way.