From School Library Journal
Gr 4-6–This companion to the author's Highway Robbery (Greenwillow, 2009) begins in the same way: a lad is handed the reins of a horse and told to take care of the animal until its owner returns. Set in ancient Rome, this is the story of the mad emperor Caligula's infamous horse, Incitatus, who was one of two consuls, appointed by the tyrannical and crazy emperor. The animal has his own house and retinue of servants, and is fed gold flakes in his oats. Marcus, a baker's son, is handed the horse by a slave boy who seconds later is killed by soldiers. Fearing what the mad emperor, known as Little Boots, will do to him if he finds that he has Incitatus, Marcus instinctively heads home, a decision that could mean a death sentence for his whole family if the soldiers discover the horse. Should he sacrifice himself to save his family? This brief chapter book is nicely suited for reading aloud or for those independent readers who enjoy their adventure and history touched with humor. Marcus's voice is engaging and credible. There are enough references to murder, from the soldiers' killing of the slave boy to descriptions of some of Little Boots's nefarious deeds, to make this story more appropriate for slightly older children than it would seem at first glance. A cleverly told tale of an odd and interesting piece of history that will intrigue young readers.–Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, MEα(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In this slight but diverting twin to Thompson’s Highway Robbery (2009), an insignificant baker’s son is given the dubious honor of guarding a legendary horse. When a slave thrusts the reins of Incitatus into his hands, Marcus thinks first to return the horse to the capitol. After all, Incitatus is also one of Rome’s most powerful officials, having been named consul by the mad emperor Gaius (based on Caligula). Then soldiers murder the slave, and Marcus ends up racing for his life on Incitatus’ back. After a tense night rife with rumors of Gaius’ death, Marcus becomes unsure if he is protecting the horse or stealing it. To save his family, he nobly returns the horse, leading to him directly influencing the coronation of Emperor Claudius. The twist—Marcus may be snowing a foreigner with a tall tale about his “famed” cart horse—will come as no surprise to Highway Robbery readers, but this is still a good choice for readers wanting a short, fast-paced historical adventure. Black-and-white illustrations were unavailable. Grades 3-5. --Krista Hutley