If you could travel to any time and place in history, which would you choose, and why?
In Sol Invictus, Ben Gartner sends his protagonists, 10-year-old John and 13-year-old Sarah, back to ancient Rome during the reign of Constantius. Their mission is to unite the emperor with Crocus, an Alemanni determined to avenge his father’s murder, and beware a man called Alex. Drawing inspiration from history and taking advantage of gaps to take creative excursions, this middle grade novel’s high action and adventure plot makes a fun entry point into ancient history. John and Sarah fight against wild animals with venatores in the Colosseum, travel with Alemanni warriors, and battle the elements and Roman centurions to achieve their mission and return home.
Gartner also weaves into events the challenges of sibling relationships, from two perspectives: the younger sibling who feels left behind and the older sibling who feels guilty about moving on. John and Sarah’s inner monologues put into words feelings and experiences that young readers may be going through but not know how to verbalize. Gartner also makes clever connections between modern and ancient skills that provide opportunities for contemporary readers to relate to past events even when they seem most alien.
This middle grade novel, the follow-up to Gartner’s The Eye of Ra, was a pleasure to read. Engaging and sensitively written, it would make a great addition to late elementary and middle school classrooms. It releases on Feb. 2. Many thanks to NetGalley for the advanced reader copy.