LONG LIST REVIEW: Mark of the Cyclops An Ancient Greek Mystery


Set in Ancient Greece, 'Mark of the Cyclops' follows the adventures of Nico and Thrax. A freeborn apprentice, Nico is a scribe who works for Master Lykos and when new slave, Thrax, joins the household, the two are sent with his son, Ariston, a poet, to a very important wedding in Corinth. On this trip, the boys show a flair for detecting when a precious wedding vase is broken and a slave girl. Gaia, is blamed. A mysterious stranger with the mark of the Cyclops on his face keeps appearing- is he involved in the mystery somehow?

Books like this are a real gift to teachers. The historical content is not incidental, but woven seamlessly into the fabric of the story, making it rich in detail about the period. Most things are explained naturally within the context of the writing, for example...

We found the agora teeming with people, like a anthill at the height of summer. There were stalls laden with fish, still gasping from being pulled out of the sea... We spied cheap jewellery and blue amulets shaped like eyes to ward off sickness and bad luck. I found the stall selling papyrus and stopped to admire it. It had lots of other wonderful things for sale too. Reed pens and styluses and inkwells in various shapes and sizes, some of them with cork stoppers to stop the ink drying up.

"Look at these little knives," said Thrax. "They have beautiful bone handles."

"They're sharpening knives. Scribes use them on their kalamos."

A glossary, a section explaining the many and varied pots used at this time and information about Greek Gods and Goddesses are included at the end of the book to ensure nothing is missed. Vividly described scenes and the use of correct terms really help to immerse the reader in the world of the Ancient Greeks.

But this is not 'just' a historical novel. It is also a very convincing detective story with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader completely engrossed in the action. The classic Poirot and Hastings, Holmes and Watson combination of detective and sidekick who records their brave deeds is cleverly developed with Thrax, a slave boy with a knack for problem solving and observation, teaming up with Nico, a scribe who dreams of writing his own stories. 

There is so much work that could stem from this fabulous story- meaningfully linked to Ancient Greece if that happens to be the class topic- or as a novel in its own right. Discussions about slavery and its role in Ancient civilisations could be linked to reading books like 'Kick' (one of our Moving On titles) which raises the topic of modern slavery. With 'individual liberty' being one of the core British values, this could easily form part of their SMSC work. 

The book offers numerous opportunities to develop oracy skills as well as reading and writing opportunities.The historical and geographical links are obvious, but there are also science links which could be made, particularly around changes of state. Saviour Pirotta is the author of many other books, including some of my favourite re-tellings of myths and legends from many countries which having read this, children are sure enjoy exploring for themselves. 

The book is full of atmospheric, black and white illustrations which, as well as adding to the story, could be used as a starting point for work. They are full of details from the story, well worth lingering over!

A thoroughly enjoyable story which thankfully is part of a series so the further adventures of Nico and Thrax can be enjoyed as they solve further mysteries in the Ancient Greek world.

Mark of the Cyclops: An Ancient Greek Mystery     Saviour Pirotta

Bloomsbury     ISBN: 978-1472934147