Book Review: The Poisoned Honey Cake, by Caroline Lawrence

THE POISONED HONEY CAKE by Caroline Lawrence is the second installment in The Roman Mystery Scrolls series, a spin off of the author’s Roman Mysteries.  Lawrence can always be relied on to deliver a cracking good yarn and this second adventure for young Threptus and his mentor Floridius is no exception.

It follows on from the first story, The Sewer Demon, but you don’t need to have read that to enjoy and understand this one. For those not yet familiar with the characters, Threptus is a beggar boy who lives in the Roman port of Ostia. Inspired by a chance meeting with Lupus, one of the older children in the Roman Mysteries, he is determined to learn to read and write, and to better his lot.  His mentor is a fake soothsayer who doesn’t balk at fleecing the rich and powerful but who has a heart of gold.

The first book in the series was an exciting mini-detective novel.  This story is a  heart-warming mix of adventure and family saga, portraying Threptus and Floridius in a blossoming father and son relationship.  The domestic scenes in the tumbledown shack they share with a battery of hens and a cat are so cosy, you want to pop in for a poculum.

The plot moves a a satisfyingly fast pace.  Floridius has lost all his money betting on the wrong charioteer.  His frantic attempt to swindle money out of a rich patron ends in tears, and abject hunger for both the humans and the pets in the family.  Threptus is so ravenous he steals a honey cake meant to be an offering to a demi-god.  With fatal results!

As always in Caroline Lawrence’s historical fiction, there is a wealth of information about life in ancient times; details about clothes, food, beliefs, customs and homes.  But it’s presented in a way that does not detract from the action.  And there is a lot of action in this book.  Threptus gets to explore the smelly sewers under Ostia again, gets beaten up by his arch-enemy the bully called Naso and his sidekicks, nearly plunges to his death off a vine and almost drowns.  All exciting stuff to keep the younger reader turning the page.  More please!

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Orion Childrens; Mass Market Paperback edition (5 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444004565
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444004564

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