Circus Maximus: Rider of the Storm by Annelise Gray

Circus Maximus: Rider of the Storm by Annelise Gray – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Compelling, David, Goliath, justice, fight.
Children’s book title: Circus Maximus: Rider of the Storm.
Children’s author: Annelise Gray.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Published by: Zephyr Books.
ISBN: 9781803281063.
Recommended for children aged: 9+ year olds.
First published: Hardback March 2023.
This children’s book is ideal for: KS2 Romans topics.

Circus Maximus: Rider of the Storm by Annelise Gray

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Our review:

At sixteen years old, Dido has had to contend with more than her fair share of heartache. Having first lost her mother, and later her father (both in dramatic circumstances), it’s as though she has already lived three lives. Being a girl in Ancient Rome isn’t easy, especially if you are a champion charioteer with a bounty on your head.

The third in the Circus Maximus series, Rider of the Storm is just as exhilarating a read as the first two novels. Dido is no longer racing as her male alter ego Leon, and her brief spell as the charioteer Princess Sophonisba seems a distant memory. Now settled with her uncle’s family in Utica, Dido is happy to be living in her own skin. Yet it has only been a year since Emperor Caligula offered a large reward to anyone who captured the mysterious Princess and her champion horse Porcellus, and although Dido has stopped looking over her shoulder, her friends and family are still on their guard.

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Annelise Gray masterfully conjures the past with vivid depictions of everyday life, taking the reader along with the characters at each turn of the story:

After we’d eaten, we huddled into warm nests we’d made for ourselves in the straw. The storm had worked itself into a frenzy, and the wind was ripping at the barn like a dog tearing scraps of meat off a bone. Gusts slipped through the cracks in the masonry, making the oil lamps on the walls flicker.

Despite the challenges Dido has faced in her short life, she is a courageous and determined young woman. Refusing to allow her past to dictate her future, she vows to follow her dreams and to honour the memory of her parents along the way:

I’ve realised that sometimes you have to look for new dreams when your old ones become impossible.

She is compassionate by nature, building strong ties with extended family members, friends and even the odd enemy. Dido’s instinctive bond with the horses she rides is a gift from the gods, and one that saves her life more than once.

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Just as Dido is getting used to the quieter life of a horse trainer, an old friend of her mother’s appears, and so begins another new chapter. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Dido starts training as a circus acrobat and begins to wonder whether she could perform at the Circus Maximus again in a different role. After some soul searching she decides that her heart lies with charioteering – but the train of events that this experience has set in motion will have life-changing consequences.

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When she finds herself forced to compete in chariot races at the Circus Maximus, this time as herself, she is thrown into a dangerous world of political and factional conflict. Her friendship with Parmenion has become a lifeline, and as the story progresses, she finds that support can come from all sides. The question is, will it be enough to save her?

Circus Maximus: Rider of the Storm is a compelling David and Goliath story of a young woman who dreams of justice and strives for a fairer world. In the words of Dido’s grandfather Muttambaal:

Fight, Dido, fight. Fear is just another opponent.

Many thanks to Zephyr Books for the review copy.

If you like Circus Maximus: Rider of the Storm by Annelise Gray you might also like: our reviews of Vita and the Gladiator by Ally Sherrick, Adventures in Time: Alexander the Great By Dominic Sandbrook, The Week at World’s End by Emma Carroll, Our Beautiful Game by Lou Kuenzler, Adventure in Athens by Caroline Lawrence, Time School by Nikki Young and The Accidental Stowaway by Judith Eagle.

Browse our list of Romans topic books

About Amanda Demwell

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Amanda has been a teacher, museum educator, family event manager and soft-toy stuffer. She now works in the arts, managing outreach programmes that encourage reading and writing for pleasure. Twitter | Reviews by Amanda Demwell