Tuesday, 9 October 2018

THE CENTURION'S SON and DANGER AT HADRIAN'S WALL by Lynne Benton. Review by Penny Dolan.

I am a great fan of history, and of encouraging primary children to enjoy and imagine and learn their way into past historical times too, so I was pleased when a new book arrived through my door, coming from a friend who I know is as enthusiastic as I am. 

The book was a copy of DANGER AT HADRIAN’S WALL by Lynne Benton, the second in her Britannia series; set in Roman Britain, these are exactly the kind of stories that many KS2 readers would enjoy.

The first, THE CENTURION’S SON, (set in 312 AD) takes place in Isca, in what’s now known as South Wales. 

Felix - the hero and twelve year-old son of the title – is anxious: Gaius the Senior Centurion, his trusted father, has been missing for days.

But Gaius has disappeared without telling Felix where he is going, or making any of his usual preparations for a journey, nor leaving any money for Felix to buy food while he was gone.

Felix had hoped that Commander Octavius had sent his father on a secret mission, but then soldiers arrive, claiming his father is a runaway traitor and Felix is thrown in prison himself.  Who will believe or help him? Even if he escapes, what can he do next? Fortunately, his long-time friend Catrin, a Silesian slave-girl with second sight, is ready to help. Despite ill-treatment, cruel treachery and life-threatening dangers, the two determined friends use their wits and their keen, watchful eyes to untangle the mystery.

In Lynne Benton’s second book, DANGER AT HADRIAN’S WALL, Felix and
Catrin have been now adopted by Commander Quintus Maximus and his wife Drusilla. When reports arrive of trouble with the Barbarians, the 2nd Augustan Legion is ordered north to Hadrian’s Wall, Felix is left behind. Desperate to prove his own bravery, Felix hatches a plan that soon has Catrin, himself and others following the footsteps of the legion. The journey is long and hard.

Unfortunately, when the band of travellers finally reach the camp at Hadrian’s Wall, the Commander is not pleased. Felix and Catrin find there are worrying signs of treachery and suspicion around the camp too, and trouble with the local Caledonian tribes. 

In addition, not only does Catrin become annoyingly jealous of Mina, the new slave girl that Felix has befriended, but she has started dreaming of flames and danger.

Then, to Felix’s horror, Catrin disappears. How can he find what has happened? He will find her, he will and, luckily, the friendly soldier Tullio is there to help and guide him on his quest beyond the Wall . . .

Lynne Benton’s writing reflects her knowledge of children, These two books, at around a hundred and fifty pages, are not overlong and easy to read.. The short, neatly-plotted chapters make the books very suitable for 7 to 9 year old readers and she adds just as much incidental historical information as the plot require. The stories make good choices for children who have Roman Britain as a topic on their school curriculum.

Moreover, although both the plots, characters and young heroes are fictional, children and families can visit the real-world remains of the Carleon Roman Fortress and reconstructed Bath House, as well as the exhibitions and excavations at the more famous Hadrian’s Wall too, and enjoy some historical fact-finding and imagining themselves.

Both books are published by Coppertree Press, with THE LOST TREASURE, the third book in the series, ready to be published soon.

Penny Dolan.


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