Ditherus Wart: (Accidental) Gladiator (History of Warts) by Alan MacDonald

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Ditherus Wart: (Accidental) Gladiator (History of Warts) by Alan MacDonald

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A rollicking comedy adventure of a young lad in Roman times, for any lads and lasses nowadays who might like an insincere look at history.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: June 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747594666

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Ditherus Wart is clearly not a fellow belonging to the brightest, happiest family in history. The entire series seems to have eight Warts to present to us, all falling on bad times, misfortune and sheer idiotic bad luck. Going back to Roman times, we get this first example.

Ditherus is living with his mother in Rome, while his father is off being a general in the battle against the Gauls. Unfortunately for the Wart family, and Ditherus in particular, the Caesar is a complete dunderhead, and entirely under the sway of his jealous advisor, who plans a green-eyed plot to put paid to the Warts and get the job of general for himself.

I won't go into quite what that entails for our hero, beyond what the title gives away – yes, Ditherus is forced to bear arms in anger, and survive in the Colosseum, with the most unlikely opponent, and even more remarkable outcome. It's certainly told in a vivid and lively way, with a true rollicking pace to the telling.

The book is clearly targeted at the under-tens, and I'm not one of those, but I don't think it a stretch of my imagination too far to see this book being one for the parent reading to his or her child – there is a lot of perfectly gentle gross-out humour to go through, for one. Beyond that, there is a larky humour to be had for the child picking their own books, with the idiocy of the fat Caesar, the more slapstick elements of the plot and characterisation, and more.

I can't say the book struck me as a great keeper, however. The volume remains a slight one, whatever age the reader, and although the book has a range of character, locations and events I can't see it getting too many readings. There is a case of it being the first book some modern readers might have picked up where the hero happily has a slave, but nothing beyond that that strikes me as completely novel – the comedy Roman names, for one, have been done better in numerous other places.

Also, of course, beyond the more vivid instances of historical detail, from the diet to the whole gladiator experience, there is no sense here of much in the way of honest education. Entertainment is the whole reason for this book, and while that is all well and good, this might go down, in that as well other ways, as a missed opportunity.

However I may well have come down too harshly on this series. This is being written before picking up the second volume, and it might be that this is not the best introduction. Perhaps I sought too much – a more sincere and virtuous historical fiction for the 5-9s, instead of what we have here. Perhaps I have just left my childhood too far behind.

The target audience will worry a lot less about sincerity, accuracy and honesty in their blasts from the past, however, and for them there will still be a strong sense of the entertaining about this book – and, I hazard to guess – the rest of the cycle. I will not object to encountering more of these particular Warts (and I will refrain from mentioning anything to do with picking them). For a sprightly, witty and lively romp, these books, despite my reservations, still get a valued Bookbag recommendation.

I would like to thank Bloomsbury for sending us a review copy.

For some thirteenth-century history for confident readers we can recommend Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

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