The Enemies of Jupiter by Caroline Lawence
This is the seventh book in Caroline Lawrence’s historical-detective series, chronicling the lives of four children living in 80 AD and the mysteries that crop up whenever they’re around.
The fever that started in Ostia is sweeping through Rome, and Jonathan, Flavia, Nubia, and Lupus are called by the Emperor to investigate.
The friends’ investigations take them from the Imperial Palace to Tiber Island, but Jonathan is distracted by a secret mission of his own. Suddenly, he finds that everything is terrifyingly out of control.
Review by David A. Wend:
The Enemies of Jupiter picks up the story with the epidemic raging in Rome. Doctor Mordecai has successfully battled the disease in Ostia and can count several Roman families among his clients. If fact, the doctor has become more Romanized shaving his beard and taken to wearing a toga, which alarms Jonathan into believing that a Roman matron has her eye on his father.
Doctor Mordecai receives a message from the emperor Titus summoning him to Rome to combat the epidemic. Titus also has had a prophetic dream that he is anxious to have Flavia and her friends solve the mystery. Jonathan has another reason for wanting to be in Rome: he wants his parents to meet in the hopes that they will rekindle their love for each other. The Rome that Flavia and her friends return has been hard hit by the epidemic but there is a feeling of hope and Titus’ prophecy appears to indicate an end to the disease, or does it?
As with the prior volumes, Caroline Lawrence is masterful in her research and her splendid writing. I particularly liked the description of Tiber Island and the methods by which the other physicians were treating the epidemic. Titus is nicely portrayed as the benevolent emperor that he was but we also see him suffering from headaches and his anger gets the better of him on occasion. We also get a brief encounter between the four children and the historian Josephus. This is a marvelous book for young adults and adults as well.
Review by R. M. Fisher:
This is the seventh book in Caroline Lawrence’s historical-detective series, chronicling the lives of four children living in 80 AD and the mysteries that crop up whenever they’re around. By this stage, their reputations precede them, and in The Enemies of Jupiter, they are summoned by Emperor Titus himself to Rome in order to solve a case that he’s prepared for him. It’s also the first book that I’ve ever read in this series, and no doubt my reading experience was somewhat tempered by the fact that I was unfamiliar with previous installments.
The four children are aristocratic Flavia, the freed slave Nubia, the tongue-less Lupus and Jonathan, the Jewish son of a renowned doctor. When Jonathan’s father Mordecai is summoned to Rome to attend to the victims of the plague, the children are invited too in order to help Emperor Titus with a troubling dream. He believes that the illness that is running rampant in the city is the result of a “Prometheus” who has opened a Pandora’s Box – and he wants the children to find out who this might be.
Armed with a stuttering guide, the children begin their investigation into Roman history and mythology, suspecting that whoever is behind the plague is unknowingly committing the crime of hubris against the gods. But Jonathan has other concerns on his mind: knowing that his long-lost mother is in the city, he is desperate to have his parents reunite, particularly since one of his father’s patients seems to have her eye on snaring Mordecai as a husband.
Although the mystery itself seems rather non-consequential, it ends up taking on a grand prophetic air by the end of the story, and the final paragraph will have readers eager to seek out The Gladiators from Capua. Neither does the author shy away from the darker side of life in Ancient Rome: not only does one of the young heroes have his tongue cut out, but the children pass a row of crucified men on their way into the city. It’s not gory, but dealt with in a matter-of-fact way that indicates that this was simply the norm for this particular time and place.
Lawrence succeeds in the tricky technique of inserting various tidbits of historical facts into the book without detracting from the story (in particular, a look at ancient medicines and illnesses, as well as the personage of Emperor Titus and the Jewish Queen Berenice), and provides an afterword that discusses some of the real-life events and settings drawn upon to provide the plot.
This is really Jonathan’s book (I’m going to assume that each installment alternates between the children as protagonists), and he makes for an intelligent, sensitive, three-dimensional hero, complete with plenty of realistic flaws. By the end, my heart was bleeding for him, as well as the three friends who are left in the shadow of dread at the book’s conclusion. At first I was rather skeptical about the children’s ability to wander Rome with minimal supervision (Flavia in particular has a ridiculous amount of freedom for a Roman girl approaching marriageable age), but on reflection, it’s no more absurd than The Famous Five getting permission to roam the English countryside with only lashings of ginger beer and a dog to protect them.
I have been meaning to track down these books for some time, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a shame that I had to start at book seven (the library had no earlier installments) for I was at a clear disadvantage when it came to the introduction of the characters and their situation as Lawrence clearly expects prior knowledge of previous books. It’s easy enough to catch on if you start here, though I’m sure that the further the series goes on, the harder it will be to jump on the bandwagon.