International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Young Fiction
Man From Pomegranate Street by Caroline Lawrence
Publisher: Orion Books
Reviewed by Thomas Morley
about the Roman Mysteries series sets out to be authentic.
Instead of chapters there are scrolls (numbered in Roman numerals),
there are characters with typical Roman mouthful type
names like Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus or Gaius Valerius Flaccus.
There is even a glossary at the end and a note at the start of the
book warning readers that This story takes place in Ancient
Roman times, so a few words may look strange.
That, as it turns
out; is an understatement, as throughout the book, we encounter unfamiliar
names, words, places, but most importantly an unfamiliar way of life
and it is just that which the author hopes to drive forward in the series.
It is clear that Lawrence is a scholar and, more importantly, she is
passionate about the subject of Ancient Rome and about teaching it to
children. This is evident in the presence of the main characters
Paedagogus (or a kind of teacher; as a quick flip to the
glossary would reveal). Through these characters the children get to
discover reams of information and facts that could be equally for our
benefit, as theirs. (A scene detailing the heritage of Rome from
Romulus and Remus is particularly riveting and informative).
The mystery of this book, the last in the series, is based around the
real-life (and historically accurate) death of the emperor Titus, apparently
by his brother Domitian. Foul play is soon considered by the series
now familiar team of young, teenage detectives, Flavia, Nubia, Jonathon
and Lupus, and they carry out their investigation with typical vigour
and gusto. Even as the story continues and threads unravel, Lawrence
treats us to real, historical clues, actual theories and, most importantly,
a satisfying mystery story; complete with twists and turns along the
However, hidden in this meandering mystery narrative, Lawrence does
venture into bigger themes. With the characters conversing over the
meaning of love, religion and even death, proving to be subtle highlights
in the books childish naivety; even in the adult characters there is
a twinge of innocence at the big wide world. Through this there is the
constant question of: are these young group of detectives really doing
the right thing? Culminating in probably the most philosophically introspective
passage of the novel, signing off with a character (Ben Aruva, Tituss
Doctor) stating, Power is a dangerous thing
if you have
it, be careful to use it for good. And while this may seem like
a safe bet for a message, Lawrence delivers it at a time when the main
characters are unsure of themselves, their attitude towards the mystery
and the methods they chose to find clues. This takes the book away from
the shallow need to find answers.
Even after a satisfying answer has been found we are still unsure of
its validity, and this gives the book an almost adult approach to story
telling. Which, along with the refusal to downplay historical references
and water-down torture scenes and mentions of sex and rape, feel as
though the author is treating the young readers as the grown-up
teenagers who are investigating this horrible tragedy in the story.
This approach, targeting young adults, however, does often turn mushy
and clichéd. Clearly, the young girl in Caroline Lawrence chose
to indulge in far more romance than knives and gladiatorial fighting
(a scene of which offering some of the black-humour of the book, but
surprisingly and frustratingly little action), undoubtedly targeting
the novel to young girls, rather than boys. But I also feel as though
this may have cut her audience in half; as a mystery story set in Roman
times is a staple that any child should feel riveted by. Even in this
day and age, historical accuracy like that present in this book is a
valuable way to teach children something interesting; while, hopefully,
enthralling them with a solid mystery and a great story.
© Thomas Morley November 2009
Thomas is studying
Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
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