Book Review by Alex Johnston
Okay, so maybe I’m not the best person to be reviewing this book. It’s written for young readers, which is a group that I’m definitely not a member of. I’m much closer to life’s second round of diapering than to its first! But tough titties, as we used to say when I was a member of that age cohort. I read it, I enjoyed it, and now I’m gonna review it! And anyway, as my wife likes to point out, I’ve got a lot of twelve-year old in me!
This book reminded me of the adventures contained in the pages of the Scholastic Book Club books that I devoured as a wee lad. Of course, I don’t really remember any of those books. But it was the feeling! And this book has all of those elements – smart, brave young protagonists, exotic locales, appropriately sanitized villains, and, most of all, adventure! Oh – and crocodiles.
Marcus and Callie, brother and sister, are orphans – their parents were lost at sea. But luckily for them, their uncle, a standard bearer for the 22nd legion, took them under his wing, and introduced them to his extended “family” – the century with which he served.
The story begins in Alexandria, Egypt. Turbo, the prefect (governor) of Egypt needs money. Alexandria was suffering the ravages of war, and the treasury was empty. Turbo was intent on raising the necessary funds to restore the city to its previous glory and settled on the perfect fundraising solution – locate an as-of-yet-un-looted pyramid, and commence to looting it. Why doesn’t everybody think of that? Marcus, who wants nothing more than to join his uncle in the legion, is raring to go, frantically hoping to be invited along. And Callie, a brilliant young scholar, is more interested in ancient religions and hieroglyphics than in gold, and she too is excited to make the journey.
But, as we all know, looting pyramids can be dangerous work! Who in their right mind wants a couple of kids tagging along? So, the usual reluctance is in evidence. But the soldiers trying to keep our heroes from joining the expedition are forgetting three important facts: 1. It’s a kid’s book, so the soldiers will inevitably fail in their attempts to make the kids stay home 2. It’s a kid’s book, so the soldiers will inevitably realize that Marcus and Callie are smarter than they are, and 3. It’s a kid’s book, so when it’s all said and done, they’ll all agree that it’s a good thing that Marcus and Callie came along, otherwise they would’ve never found the damned treasure! (Oops – did I give it away? Uh, that is, I mean, if they did end up finding the treasure they would agree that it was due to Marcus’ and Callie’s help. Hypothetically, speaking of course. In theory. Maybe, maybe not). Jeez, adults can be so dense sometimes! Why do you always have to explain the simplest things to them? Over and over again!
There’s history to be learned in these pages, whatever the age group! Turney does a great job of portraying the devastation of Alexandria vis-à-vis the glories that the city previously manifested. In one section of the book, he describes a scene where the children are passing the crumbled ruins of the home where they used to live. Marcus was saddened, but Callie looked on with interest – she was always trying to gain knowledge from every situation she encountered. The author then moves directly to a description of the library of Alexandria and its destruction.
Turney, the author of the Marius Mules series, brings his talent for character development to this book, but in a manner designed with the younger reader in mind. The children’s uncle was a standard bearer for his century, and the strenuous nature of that position, “lugging the heavy standard around,” is aptly portrayed. Prefect Turbo reminded Marcus of “one of the scraggy black vultures that they often saw circling in the clear blue Egyptian skies. … [He] sat hunched over his desk, his neck craned and his head snapping back and forth as he worked.” Senex, the oldest man in the unit, had been a priest trainee, but he could no longer read, because his eyes gave him woe. He only had a few teeth left, and had to gum his food. The only part of his portrayal that I didn’t like was where the author described him as nearer sixty than fifty, which sounds suspiciously like he’s saying that the half-blind, toothless old man was younger than me! Given my vibrancy, intelligence, and youthful good looks, this clearly couldn’t be the case, and I’m surprised that an author of Turney’s talent would make such an obvious mistake! So there! Wait – what was I just talking about? I forget. What’s that you say?!? Speak up, dag nab it! And bring me my walker, goddamn you, or I’ll beat you with my cane!
Speaking of old farts, my favorite character was the ancient Egyptian that they forced to accompany the group from Alexandria. I wonder if you’ll feel the same. Remains to be seen, I guess. Anyway, give it a read, and if you’re a mature, dignified adult like me, just don’t tell anybody you read it and nobody will be the wiser. Better yet, buy it for your kids, and sneak it away while they’re sleeping. Just remember to put it back before they wake up!
Man, writing book reviews is hard work! I need a drink. Bartender, bring me a hot chocolate, heavy on the marshmallows. Make it a double, and if you spill any on my jammies there’ll be hell to pay!
PS – the illustrations are fantastic!
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Simon Turney lives with his wife and children and a menagerie of animals in rural North Yorkshire, where he sits in an office, wired on coffee and digestive biscuits, and attempts to spin engrossing tales out of strands of imagination while his children drive toys across his desk and two dogs howl as they try to share a brain cell. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, history and architecture, Simon spends most of his rare free time travelling around ancient sites, writing, researching the ancient world and reading voraciously.
Alex Johnston is the author of several fiction books about Marcus Mettius, a minor character in Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War. Marcus brings a salesman's amused and worldly perspective to the major characters, locales, and events of the late Roman Republic period. I think he's a hoot, and I hope that you will as well! The Marcus Mettius titles are Caesar's Ambassador,Caesar's Emissary, Caesar's Daughter, a compilation of those three stories, and Caesar's Lictor. Marcus likes a good joke and prefers wits to weapons in dealing with tricky situations. He parties with Gauls and Alexandrians, hangs out with slaves and freedmen, and counts Julius Caesar among his friends.
Book Review of Crocodile Legion: A Roman Adventure - Related Topic: Bibliography