The Blurb On The Back:
Can one slave destroy an empire?
Britannia. A conquered land.
Running. Weeping. Blood on her lips.
Blood in her mouth.
Blood that is not her own.
After maiming her master, Cassia has no choice but to run. Beyond the river, far to the north, stands Hadrian’s Wall – the furthest limit of the mighty Roman Empire. And beyond the wall? Freedom. With dogs on her trail and a bounty on her head, the journey seems impossible. But then Cassia meets Marcus – slick, slippery, silver-tongued – a true and perfect son of Rome. And her only hope.
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The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s the latter half of the 3rd century AD. 15-year-old Cassia was born a slave and raised to serve as concubine to Lucius, the son of the wealthy and powerful Titus Cornelius Festus. When Lucius dies before he can sleep with Cassia, Titus decides to take her for himself but Cassia has other ideas and rather than be raped, she strikes back at her owner and badly mutilates his ear before escaping.
She makes it to Londinium but without money or contacts she remains as at risk as ever before until she meets Marcus Aurelius Aquila, a trader who’s willing to help her rescue her brother, Rufus from Titus, and take them north beyond Hadrian’s Wall where Britons still live free. Charming and silver-tongued, Marcus seems too good to be true and Cassia’s suspicious of him but the two form an uneasy alliance that forces each to face their own prejudices and in doing so, risk bringing down the world’s most powerful empire …
Tanya Landman’s latest YA historical novel revisits the themes of slavery, prejudice and oppression that are common in many of her books to powerful effect but the story here didn’t grip me as much as in her other novels, in part because of the change in character perspective half way through, which created distance, but also because the plot just didn’t catch fire for me – certainly not enough to believe it could inspire a wider revolution.
I’d really enjoyed following Cassia’s journey as she learns about herself and the Empire and risks everything to get herself, her brother and her friends up north and her developing relationship with Marcus. However the book shifts to Marcus just as Cassia’s story gets interesting with her meeting Britons and discovering secrets of her heritage while Marcus’s story is essentially that of someone confronting his privilege and realising the damage it causes, which he wants to put right by rescuing one symbolic slave he was awful to in order to salve his conscience. As a result, I felt robbed of the chance to discover the culmination of Cassia’s journey as she becomes a confident woman in her own right and instead get her resuming romance with Marcus, which really didn’t interest me as much at that point. As such, although this was an okay read, for me it wasn’t as gripping as Landman’s other books.
BEYOND THE WALL was released in the United Kingdom on 6th April 2017. Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of his book.