Plot: In Sol Invictus, Gartner constructs a cyclical narrative, where the present absorbs the past. At first, the book appears to capture an adventure in time, yet it results in a journey from adolescence. The motif of time reappears throughout the novel as a period of measurement, age, and growth. Amidst the venatores, gladiators, and Romans lingers a coming-of-age story about an ordinary girl.
Prose/Style: Written through the voices of young narrators, Gartner manages to convey a childlike essence without losing any artistic maturity. Cliches are coupled with elegant metaphors, creating a dichotomy between innocence and adulthood. With limited vocabulary and simple sentences, Gartner’s narrative voice complements the book’s brisk pacing and heightens its unending action.
Originality: John and Sarah’s adventures resemble the conventional narrative arc of any action novel—a tasked mission that determines the players’ outcomes. The book echoes the same adventure-driven narrative of Percy Jackson and the Olympians but with its own Roman twist. However, Gartner skillfully embellishes a narrow glimpse of history that is typically studied for its grander narrative.
Character Development/Execution: Despite the book’s focus on action, the narrative primarily centers on introspection. Using the omniscient third person, the narration shifts between the two siblings with witty observations about the family dynamic. Readers are privy to the gradual change in their way of thinking, as Sarah and John’s thoughts address the ordinary discomforts of childhood.
Date Submitted: April 01, 2021
Some elements here will be too reminiscent of Tolkien for a seasoned audience, such as John’s eye of Ra amulet and its similarity to the One Ring. But Gartner has a knack for action and creating compelling historical personalities; the portrait of the future Alemanni king, Crocus, makes a distant age more relatable for modern readers. The book’s energetic writing captures the growing pains of both protagonists—Sarah as she pulls away from her family in adolescence, and John as he comes to terms with his role as a younger brother—along with rich historical detail on the ancient Roman empire, including its conflicts with Germanic peoples.
The Roman setting is brimming with bustling life: lively depictions of Saturnalia celebrations, vicious gladiator combat, and even slavery in Roman society, give suitable, nuanced color to this historical time period. Still, Gartner never lets the harsh realities of ancient Rome bring down his story too much: he keeps it light for his middle-grade audience with callbacks to the present (John whispering the Spiderman theme as he traverses the wall of a Roman fortress is a delightful example). This spirited story will appeal to eager young historians.
Takeaway: Middle school readers who treasure ancient history with a side of adventure will welcome this fantasy story.
Great for fans of: Caroline Lawrence’s The Roman Mysteries series, Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse series.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
“Fans of Ben Gartner’s first book will gobble this up!”
“Sol Invictus by Ben Gartner is a fantastic follow-up that delivers! Keeping true to the spirit of the first book and its lovable heroes, this sequel to Eye of Ra ramps up the action, character growth, and overall stakes. Sol Invictus delivers a fun, page-turning adventure with sword fights, wolf pups, narrow escapes, and even ancient cheesecake! A fun time-traveling sibling adventure story with heart and heart-pounding action. I can’t wait to read what comes next for John and Sarah!”
Once again, Gartner deftly weaves real-life history into a compelling adventure, offering high-stakes, realistic danger and vivid scene-setting.
Must read 🏆
Middle grade readers with a love of adventure and history are sure to connect with John and Sarah in this dynamic story.
“I was so excited to read this second book in the Eye of Ra series and was not disappointed! It’s a thrilling ride from start to finish as the brother and sister MCs travel back in time again, this time to ancient Rome where they have to accomplish a seemingly impossible task or be stuck in time. With tons of action, humor, excellent character development, and historical details that will make you feel like you’ve been swept back in time too, this is sure to be a winner for middle grade readers.”