Friday, January 22, 2016

Rise of the Wolf by Jennifer A. Nielsen, 2016

Update 2/1/16: Interested in Rise of the Wolf? Click here to enter my giveaway and try to win an ARC!

Warning: This is a review of the second book in the "Mark of the Thief" series, and there may be spoilers for the first book. You can read my review of Mark of the Thief here, or check it out on Goodreads here.

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Nic may have escaped enslavement in the mines outside of Rome, but his troubles are far from over. The Praetor War--the battle to destroy Rome from within--is in full force, and Nic is caught in the crossfire. The secretive Praetors are determined to unlock a powerful amulet--one sure to bring the empire to its knees. Worse, the Praetors believe Nic holds the key to finding this amulet, and they will stop at nothing to steal it, even if that means harming the people Nic holds most dear.
When the Praetors capture Nic's mother, Nic knows he must do anything to save her. He challenges the Praetors to a chariot race. If he wins, they will release his mother. But if he loses, he must hand over a magic that will certainly destroy Rome and end his own life. Can Nic once again harness his magic and gather the strength to defeat his enemies? Or will he lose his mother and bear witness to Rome's destruction?

(352 pages)

First things first: isn't the cover absolutely gorgeous? I swear, Nielsen's books get the best cover artists ever. I used to say the Ascendance trilogy books were the prettiest ones on my shelf, but I don't think that's true anymore - honestly, those turquoise shades are even more breathtaking in person! And the silver armband really pops (Caela looks like she's sticking her snout of the picture at me!), and the spine is the most amazing light blue, and . . . sorry, I think I'm rambling now.

Anyway, I can't say I'm enjoying the Mark of the Thief series as much as I did Nielsen's Ascendance trilogy, but in all fairness that was a pretty insanely high bar to hit again. I think the trouble is that Nic isn't quite as clever as Sage. He's powerful, sure - much more powerful, in a physical sense, than Sage ever was - but Nic doesn't have Sage's powerful intellect or objective way of looking at things. Nic stumbled into this world of treachery and deceit, and he's stumbling around inside it trying to save the people he loves. He doesn't really want any of the power or strength that has been dropped onto his lap, and he is pretty much a sitting duck for any manipulative baddy who comes his way and makes a swipe at him.

On the other hand, what Nic lacks in drive he makes up for in motivation. He genuinely cares about the people who are close to him, and he is doing his very best to protect them. He's not lazy by any stretch of the imagination; he's not purposefully making sloppy choices. It's just that every alley is blocked for him, and he's flailing around as best he can in an attempt to find a safe way out. Do I agree with all of his choices (or the way he makes those decisions)? No, I do not. But I have a hard time being too mad at him when I know how hard he's trying to do the right thing.

My favorite addition to this second novel is one that does at times feel rather forced, but which is just such a fingernail-biting dilemma that I can't hold anything against it. Nielsen seems to be a fan of playing with forced marriages (first in The Shadow Throne with Jaron and Amarinda, and now here in Rise of the Wolf). I think that's pretty dang awesome, because I've always loved those sorts of conundrums. I don't want to say anything else about this part of the story because I'd hate to spoil it for you, but it definitely adds a whole new angle to Nic's internal conflict.

I can't say this is my all-time favorite of Nielsen's books but I did still enjoy it and I'm glad I read it. This is a great series for young fans of Ancient Rome, and I can definitely see it bridging the gap for kids who've finished Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson novels but aren't quite ready for Megan Whalen Turner's "The Queen's Thief" books.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm just going to go sit and stare at that gorgeous cover for like an hour.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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