Vita and the Gladiator by Ally Sherrick

Vita and the Gladiator – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Historical, dangerous, mystery, bravery, gripping.
Children’s book title: Vita and the Gladiator.
Children’s author: Ally Sherrick.
Genre: Historical adventure.
Published by: Chicken House Books.
ISBN: 9781913696535.
Recommended for children aged: 9+.
First published: Paperback February 2023.l
This children’s book is ideal for: KS2 and KS3 history fans.

Vita and the Gladiator by Ally Sherrick

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Our review:

In Roman Britain in the year 125 CE, 14-year-old Vita longs to be a writer, secretly sneaking out of her house to watch plays and poetry readings in Londinium’s Forum. Her parents try to support her ambition, providing scrolls for her writing and praising her poetry. However, Vita is the daughter of a famous army commander, widely considered a hero for his role in suppressing the ‘barbarians’ currently mustering in the North. Imminent marriage to one of her father’s generals is therefore Vita’s only realistic future.

Disguising herself as a slave, Vita escapes the wedding preparations to watch a performance of one of her favourite stories – Theseus and the Minotaur.

This was it, the moment she’d been waiting for. She closed her eyes and prepared to be carried away to a land of heroes and monsters by the magic of the words.

Things get out of hand however when Vita is called onto the stage to take part in the play herself. Fearful of being recognised and shaming her family, Vita is rescued by a mysterious escaped slave and returns home, vowing to be more careful in the future.

However that night, tragedy strikes. Vita’s father is killed and Vita, still dressed as a slave, is taken captive. Mourning her father and with no way of finding out what happened to her mother and brother, Vita finds herself sharing a cell with the fierce Brea and her semi-tame wolf in the terrifying gladiator training grounds.

As they stepped out on to the sand, the air about them exploded in a frenzy of cheers and wild yelling, accompanied by the thunder of trumpets and the steady beat of the drums.

As Brea reveals more about her past, Vita is forced to question the validity of her previous privileged lifestyle. And then comes the horrific realisation that her fiancé and maybe even her beloved father may not have been all they appeared.

Forced to fight for her freedom, Vita must both trust and learn from Brea if she has any chance of escaping the deadly gladiator games. Ultimately her survival depends on both her cunning and storytelling prowess as she and Brea join a band of escaped slaves to forge a more equal future for them all.

Vita and the Gladiator by Ally Sherrick

Vita and the Gladiator is rich in detail, with the descriptions of Roman food, clothing and entertainment helping to bring to life this turning point in British history. Readers who are keen to move on from the Horrible Histories series will find a lot to enjoy in this book, with its skilful blend of historical insight and personal drama. The historical notes at the end provide a fascinating additional insight into Roman Britain.

Non-royal protagonists tend to be in the minority in historical fiction, especially in the more violent periods of British history. Vita is therefore a welcome addition to the genre, with her strength lying in her intellect rather than her physicality.

Vita and the Gladiator is a fast-paced, gripping historical adventure that will appeal to fans of Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries series.

Many thanks to Chicken House Books for the review copy.

If you like Vita and the Gladiator by Ally Sherrick you might also like: our reviews of Adventure in Athens by Caroline Lawrence, Our Beautiful Game by Lou Kuenzler, The Head That Wears A Crown edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Dai’an Wright, Adventures in Time: Alexander the Great By Dominic Sandbrook, The Week at World’s End by Emma Carroll and Time School: We Will Honour Them by Nikki Young.

Browse our list of books for KS2

About Melanie Dillon

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Melanie has a Master’s degree in Information and Library Management; a Post Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature focusing on the Reading Agency’s Reading Well scheme & LGBT YA fiction, and extensive experience working in school and public libraries. Linkedin | Reviews by Melanie Dillon