Well, I certainly do appear to be on a roll, readers. Here we have another review, this time of a book I believe I picked up on sale. The title and blurb appealed to me, and so I grabbed it while I could.
Speaking of, here is the description for the novel, Servant to the Wolf*:
In 106 A.D., a fifteen year old slave boy comes face to face with the hazards of arrogance, bigotry, and hatred: primarily his own.
Marcus has a great life. A rich man’s personal servant living in the heart of the Roman Empire, he’s well-fed, well-educated, good-looking, and respected by everyone around him.
Blacksmith Lupus, “the Wolf,” will always carry the scars of his own experience with slavery. A foreign born “barbarian” and now a freedman, Lupus works his trade and lives a simple life, trying to put his past behind him.
When a twist of fate causes Marcus to tumble from his comfortable lifestyle into the ownership of Lupus, conflict erupts between the prideful slave and the humble smith. But there just might be more to Lupus than meets the eye. When danger threatens, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to be a Servant to the Wolf.
The book is for Middle Graders, and it is fairly age appropriate. You will not find any mentions of sex or gore in the tale, which takes place in Rome itself. Although there are mentions of campaigns, beatings, and the horrors of war and slavery, these are not dwelt on. In fact, at one point, the hero of the piece absolutely refuses to tell anyone what befell him in one unfortunate incident.
As the blurb says, Marcus may be a slave, but his lot is better than many others. Good looking and well-educated, he is raised as the companion to his master’s son, Gaius Kaeso – until the patrician Gnaeus Oppius Flavus purchases him. Flavus likes the finer things in life, particularly if they are beautiful, and Marcus checks all those boxes easily. The fact that he is cultured helps, too.
This goes to Marcus’ head. He has no idea it has, of course, for the arrogant rarely realize they are arrogant – until they fall. The event that presages Marcus’ slip from grace comes when he is rushing to return home early one morning with messages for his master. It starts to rain and, to keep the scrolls from getting wet, he has to duck into the nearest shop.
Said shop happens to belong to a blacksmith and farrier named Caledonius Lupus, though Marcus does not bother to ask the man’s name until much later. No need to ask a man for his name when they will never meet again, of course, though he does make a faux pas when he wonders where the blacksmith’s master is. Lupus explains he is a freedman and Marcus jumps up out of his seat like it is on fire. He just insulted a freedman who owns the shop and invited him to stay inside to avoid getting soaked. Despite his arrogance, he does realize his station in life.
Lupus lets it pass and insists Marcus wait in the shop until the rain ceases. Marcus is worried, as this will make him late, but Lupus points out that if he leaves now, then he and his packages will get soaked. Better to wait and return with dry scrolls than get a beating for bringing them in wet and useless.
So Marcus waits, studying the shop and the smith. He quickly comes to the conclusion that Lupus is not a Roman, one indicator is the man’s thick beard. Romans typically shave, so only barbarians from other lands wear beards. Once the rain ceases, Marcus heads home and waits upon Flavus, explaining to the patrician why he is late.
Flavus decides to visit Lupus to thank him for his service, but he is not happy to find the barbarian who “rescued” his slave pays him no homage and is not properly deferential when he enters the shop. Marcus is further strengthened in his opinion of his own standing in that confirmation of his biases, for he might be a slave, but at least he is a civilized slave. The barbarian smith cannot claim that.
Then, after reciting some poetry and reading to the other slaves that night, Marcus makes a grievous error. He insults a slave from the stable, who comes to his room to ask him to tutor him in the classics. Marcus considers the groom to be beneath his notice and is irate that the young man has brought the scent (and likely the leavings) of horse manure into his room.
For his part, the groom is not happy to be treated as simple and stupid when he is no such thing. Just because he works with his hands does not mean he is unintelligent. Marcus, however, is certain this is so and continues to insult him. Infuriated, the other slave grabs an oil lamp and throws it at him. Since it is lit, you can imagine how well this goes for Marcus. His handsome features and “perfection” are permanently marred and he is promptly taken to the slave market to be sold.
Realizing this means he is likely going to end up in the Coliseum to be eaten by lions or killed by gladiators, the now ill Marcus finds none of the slaves at Flavus’ house are actually unhappy to lose him. Only his attacker is remorseful, having lashed out in the heat of anger, realizing that he should not have hurt another human being in a fit of temper.
Fevered and angry, Marcus is barely cognizant of the bidding that goes on for him. When he is bought, since he can barely stand, he has to be helped to his new domicile. He expects to go to the Coliseum but soon concludes he is not being led there. He becomes lucid only when he reaches his new master’s abode.
The man who bought him is none other than the smith who sheltered him from the rain: Caledonius Lupus.
What follows is a long, humbling journey for the proud slave. Once an ornament of what he assumed to be great value to a patrician nobleman, he now finds himself the property of a barbarian from the north. Lupus soon learns that his compassion for the young slave is going to have to be tempered by some tough love, because the boy does not, in fact, realize his station in life. He is slave, and he knows it, yes, but Marcus is a pampered slave – and that’s dangerous for both men. A pampered slave convinced he is worth more than he actually is can land himself and his master in a whole world of trouble.
Servant to the Wolf* is an historical novel children will love and adults will enjoy. Ms. Wentz weaves a credible tale set in the Roman Empire of an arrogant young man learning humility at the same time his teacher learns that perhaps he is not so humble or different from the Romans as he likes to believe. Humans never change, no matter where they are from, and bigotry can take many forms. The most obvious type is that displayed by the Romans for Lupus, a “mere barbarian” with no appreciation of culture or learning.
But Lupus has some ingrained bad habits of his own. Obvious condescension is easy to spot, yet it is not the only kind. The less apparent type – that is harder to recognize, and even more difficult to uproot.
If you are looking for a good historical tale to purchase for a nephew, son, grandson, or the boy next door, Servant to the Wolf is a good choice. There is little action but plenty of tension as the two heroes grapple with similar, yet still separate, interior forces. You do not need to take my word for it, though; pick up the novel in ebook or paperback today and read it yourself. You will not regret it!
*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.
If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth. She has also had stories published in the Planetary Anthology Series. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue in 2020, and she had a story published in Storyhack Magazine’s 7th Issue, Cirsova Magazine’s 2021 Summer Issue, and another may be read over at Ember Journal. Her first anthology – The Guardian Cycle – is available in paperback and ebook as well. Order them today!
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3 thoughts on “Review: Servant to the Wolf by Sue Wentz”
It sounds like a smart literary read for young graders, leading them to explore and reason with spiritual enrichments and virtues. I enjoyed your explicit review. Best regards.
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Thank you! I’m glad you liked it! 😀
You are so welcome Caroline.☕️☕️
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