Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 26th 2015 by Point / Scholastic, Inc.
Format read: ARC via publisher
Laura Martin is visiting Rome on a class trip, and she's entranced by the majestic Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon. . . . Everything in this city seems magical.
That is, until the magic seems to turn very dark.
Suddenly, statues of Cupid and ancient works of art come to life before her eyes. Earthquakes rumble and a cloud of ash forms in the sky. A dark-eyed boy with wings on his heels appears and gives her a message. Laura soon realizes she is at the center of a brewing battle -- a battle between the gods and goddesses, one that will shake modern-day Rome to its core.
Only she and her group of friends can truly unravel the mystery behind what is happening. As tensions mount and secret identities are revealed, Laura must rely on her own inner strength to face up to what may be a fight for her life.
Acclaimed author Paula Morris brings the ancient world to vivid life in this unstoppable tale of friendship, love, and the power of the past.
When we first meet Laura, she's traveling around Rome on a class trip. It's typical teenaged shenanigans, until an attempted mugging results in Laura being in possession of two gems, the eyes of Minerva. From that point on, it's full-blown chaos as the city begins falling apart and ancient gods come to life, as they begin battle for Laura's right to hold onto the sacred gems.
On paper, the synopsis of this book sounds awesome, right? A beautiful foreign city! Roman gods battling for the rights of a human girl! A city on the verge of destruction! It's basically how the most intriguing action-adventure books begin, and Paula Morris has set herself up with a plethora of material to draw upon.
But in practice, very little of Morris's rich foundation pans out. Yes, the Roman setting is absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking. As someone who has never been to Rome, I immediately found myself transported into historical Rome vis-a-vis Morris's detailed writing, even as the city starts crumbling around Laura and her classmates.
Other than that, the story quickly devolves into something that is happening to Laura, verses something that Laura makes the choice to actively participate in. As the volcano erupts and Laura discovers the eyes of Minerva, she quickly becomes someone who blindly goes along with whatever she's told, rather than showing any initiative or curiosity for herself.
E.g. Instead of investigating the gems and why they appear to be causing her bad luck, Laura's primary aim is to be freaked out by the bad luck, but also blindly accept the fact that she's apparently being protected, because a mysterious figure tells her as much. And instead of doing the intelligent thing and remaining in the hostel as Rome rapidly empties due to volcanic activity and illness, Morris has Laura and her friends wandering around and getting into danger, because... plot convenience?
(For some weird reason, all I could think was that Laura really reminded me of Bella Swan while reading.)
Even as she begins to learn more about the mythological elements battling it out for her, Laura continues to just accept everything she's being told. There's no "Ok, so what do I now, moment?" or "How can I help?" sense of urgency. Instead, her actions continue to largely revolve around being instructed on how to act by relative strangers, and occasionally wondering whether her classmate finds her cute or not.
I don't know about you guys, but if Mercury - a Roman God - showed up and told me that a bunch of ancient gods were battling it out on my behalf, you can bet I would not be thinking about whether my classmate found me cute or not. And it's strange that Laura cares so little about that fact, and instead, chooses to obsess over other details instead.
While Morris makes a valiant effort to amp up the action in the final twenty-five percent of the book, it's definitely a case of too little, too late. Because Laura has been too passive of a character throughout the book to merit reader investment, it's hard to care as she and her friends finally try to save the day. Moreover, her efforts are still completely dependent on being instructed by others rather than taking the charge, so it ultimately feels like a muted victory.
However, I would tentatively recommend this book for younger readers who are looking to dip a toe into travel and mythology fiction for the first time. This is a great way to learn about Rome and Roman gods, and will likely spark younger readers to dig deeper into those interests.