After being sold into servitude by their mother, Nic and his sister Livia are forced to work in the mines near Rome. Since Nic is small and adept within the mine, he is chosen to retrieve a lost treasure belonging to Julius Caesar that is believed to be deep at the bottom of a cavern. Once inside the mine, Nic locates the treasure, but also stumbles upon the griffin who is guarding it. The two battle over a bulla (object from Caesar containing magic) and Nic ends up receiving a scratch on his back from the griffin. As the mine begins to collapse around them, somehow Nic is able to convince the griffin that they must escape. Yet, Nic doesn't want freedom if it means that he must leave his sister behind, so is quickly captured and returned to the mine. Nic's troubles do not end there, he is then sold to Felix and sent to Rome to control the griffin, who is set to participate in the hunts within the Colosseum. Along the way, Nic meets many officials within the Roman empire, but who to trust becomes very challenging and when he makes a terrible mistake in the Colosseum hinting at his ability to use magic, he now has the General of Rome trying to get the bulla for himself.
I was first introduced to Nielsen's books beginning with the False Prince. My child and I really enjoyed reading the series together, so Mark of the Thief seemed like it would be a great book to follow it up. At the same time, they were also learning about Rome at school, so it was great to have a book that matched up with the curriculum as well as being entertaining. Some of the specific details my child enjoyed, were the class system and government within the Roman empire, the idea that Caesar had believed he was descended from the Gods, the aqueducts, and of course the gladiators and battles in the Colosseum. the Mark of the Thief also had lots of action, adventure, twists and turns and political intrigue that left Nic with no one he could trust despite everyone wanting to "help" him. There were also a lot of people harboring secrets and ulterior motives. Nic certainly reminds me of Jaron from the False Prince with his playful bantering, teasing of Aurelia and insults that he hurls at everyone else. Plus, I always adore characters that stand up for their siblings and don't want to "blur the shades of right and wrong." If you enjoy reading books set within the Roman times and have read any other of Nielsen books from The Ascendance trilogy before this will fit in perfectly.
My kiddo's final thoughts: "Nielsen does characters pain so well to where you feel it."