Cover Image: Circus Maximus: Race to the Death

Circus Maximus: Race to the Death

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This is the story of Dido, a 12-year girl in Ancient Rome, who grows up in the world of the Circus Maximus, where her father trains horses for one of the most popular charioteering factions. Having an incredible way with horses, she is desperate to become a charioteer herself but is forbidden from training as she is a girl. Early on in the story, Dido is forced to flee Rome after the death of her father and finds herself at the home of a famous horse breeder and trainer, who used to ride at the Circus Maximus himself. What follows is the story of Dido’s journey to disguise her true identity and somehow get back to the Circus Maximus and her beloved horse Porcellus.

This was such an engaging, fun read. The author really transports the reader to Ancient Rome and the race scenes at the Circus are absolutely thrilling. Dido and the supporting characters, from servants right the way through to the Emperor Caligula, are well-drawn and the horses are given such wonderful personalities too.

The pacing was really good throughout, and I loved the ending. All in all, I would recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction, and would absolutely read more by this author.
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I didn't really know what to expect with this book but once I started reading, I couldn't put it down.  This fast paced piece of historical middle-grade fiction is a brilliant read where Ancient Rome is vividly brought to life. 

12 year old Dido works with her father, Antonius, taking care of the horses he trains for Rome's favourite chariot racing team, the Greens.  She dreams of one day racing in the Circus Maximus herself with her beloved horse, Porcellus, but when she witnesses her father's murder, Dido is forced to leave the city and Porcellus behind to avoid being killed herself.  However, her adventure is only just beginning.

Dido is a fantastic heroine and this action-packed tale will keep you gripped to the end.  It has a wide appeal and is perfect for fans of historical fiction, horses and anyone who enjoys thrilling adventure stories aged 9+.
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For anyone who loves Horses & the Sports that they have been part of Historically & those who have a love of ancient history will thoroughly enjoy reading `Circus Maximus : Race to the Death , because although our heroine Dido is completely fictional many of the others are not, such at the Emperor Tiberius AD37 & his great nephew Caligula & some of those connected to the  Praetorian Guard who did much of the Emperor's dirty work .I don't want to put in any spoilers so I highly recommend that you read this Book either by buying it or by borrowing it from your Local Library. #FB,#Instagram,#NetGalley, #Goodreads, , #<img src="" width="80" height="80" alt="50 Book Reviews" title="50 Book Reviews"/>, #<img src="" width="80" height="80" alt="Reviews Published" title="Reviews Published"/>, #<img src="" width="80" height="80" alt="Professional Reader" title="Professional Reader"/>.
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Huge thank you to Head of Zeus and NetGalley for giving me access to the digital ARC of Circus Maximus: Race to the Death.

I was very excited when I read the description to this book, a kids book set in Ancient Rome featuring chariot races!! What more could I possibly want!?

This book follows Dido who dreams of being the first female charioteer at the Circus Maximus. When her father, a trainer of charioteer horses is murdered Dido has to flee Rome for her safety.

Dido is a very fun character. She is so passionate and caring about horses and about her friends. Side note that this book has a lot of good horse content, so if you have any horsey fans, this would be an excellent book for them. Dido is very determined to race, and I really love her stubborn need to race, she wouldn’t let anyone stop her from following her dreams. She is an excellent female character to have in children’s books, and I hope this will be a series so we can get to know Dido more!

This novel is action-packed! From page one the plot doesn’t let up, it flies along. Gray is not afraid to shake things up, and the drama is non-stop. The novel is a really quick read because of this, and it really keeps you reading, you have to find out what happens next!!

Overall I enjoyed this novel, it is a fun read and a really interesting setting for a novel! More children’s novels set in Ancient Rome please!
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Loved this title! Unusual for the age range and refreshing because of it. Brilliantly written, gripping and a thrilling journey to go on with Dido.
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I read this book in two or three days, but only because I was delayed by the inconvenience of having to attend to everyday life.

Circus Maximus is the story of the daughter of the trainer of one of the Circus Maximus's chariot racing teams. The problem is that Dido, being a girl, can't race, and when her father is caught up in the middle of a plot to fix the races, Dido is forced to flee Rome. She ends up with the man her father used to race against, but the plot goes much higher into the echelons of Roman society than any of them could have imagined and Dido is forced to pretend she is dead and pass herself off as a boy. And being a boy, there's now no reason why she can't return to Rome and have her revenge from the sands of the Circus Maximus. . . 

I really enjoyed this book. It's clear that the author took time to research both horses and Roman culture and as a result, the book was believable and satisfying. I appreciated that though Dido is a girl who wants to race horses, this isn't a ragingly feminist book, it's about a girl who loves horses and wants to avenge her father. She's not angsty either, she's capable but feminine and I'd happily read more books with all of these characters in them. Setting it during the time that Caligula became Emperor was a good call too, because it added a lot of tension (for me anyway), knowing how erratic and often brutal he was. It sort of added something of a wildcard to the plot (to my shame, it took me a while to remember who Cassius was in real life -_-). That said, the story was well put together and flowed very naturally. All of the characters were very distinct and engaging and I liked that there were good characters who made poor choices (or chose ignorance) as well as questionable characters who (sometimes) did the right thing. The fact that the bad characters got their comeuppance, but it wasn't Dido that did it was a nice change from having main characters consumed by revenge.

If you enjoyed the Roman mystery books and like horses, then this is a great book for you. If you aren't as bothered by horses, but love Roman history and a good bit of tension and action, then you'll also like this book a lot. 

For content, be warned that there is a little violence. The Circus Maximus was no picnic and sometimes drivers in the races where hurt by other drivers or severely injured/killed when their chariots were destroyed. Also, Caligula was a real jerk (to put it mildly). The violence is present in this book, but handled in such a way that a 10+ year old won't be too upset by it. It's clear what is happening without going into too much detail.

I highly recommend this book, but it comes with the warning that you should make sure you have a large block of time to read it in, because it's really not easy to put down.

I give this book six out of seven golden dolphins.

(I received this book as a free ARC from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, regardless of how the Emperor feels about it.)
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A thrilling story of the cut and thrust world of chariot racing in Ancient Rome. Dido, daughter of the trainer for the Greens, has lived and breathed racing horses since babyhood, and dreams of being allowed to race herself. However, her father stands firmly in her way! 
A night where everything changes sends Dido on a story arc that’s sad, tense, packed with subterfuge, daring and adventure and eventually hurls her back into the world of the Circus Maximus as an experienced and courageous racer- for the Blues.  The racing world is full of cheats and schemers, with nasty practices encouraged by an out of control Emperor, Caligula,  who must always have his own way. Dido’s path ultimately drags her into direct conflict with him and his favourite charioteer, a man  who Dido has thwarted in their past...

Fitting well into a KS2 history theme and with a feisty female protagonist, I imagine this book will be a popular classroom choice. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this world and look forward to more books from Annelise Gray. My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of the book in exchange for my honest views.
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with thanks to Netgalley and Head of Zeus 

Circus Maximus is fast paced children's book about Dido who wants to become a chariot race that is only for men. I enjoyed this book and I'm sure that many children will enjoy this book too,
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This one took me a little while to get into, but once I did I was hooked. The writing is absolutely fantastic, and the author does a fantastic job of bringing to life the historical period with all the little details that breathed life into the narrative without ever getting overwhelming, and that attention to detail was exactly what I wanted. The characters were well-fleshed out and believable, and the action, especially the racing was so vivid that I was on the edge of my seat for many of them. An absolute joy to read.
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Excellent book! So gripping from beginning to end and such a richly imagined setting. I could smell the horses, taste the wine and hear the cheers in the crowd. I will buy this for every niece and nephew who is age appropriate!
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Dido has a way with horses and skills to enable her to win chariot races, but chariot racing is dangerous and fraught with dangerous rivalries.  Her father is a trainer for the green faction favoured by the people, but when he voices his suspicions about the uncharacteristic behaviour of one of the horses, Dido is the witness to the tragic consequences and is forced to flee Rome.  Luck is on her side, and she is taken in by a breeder of chariot horses, where she saves his old favourite horse when it is bitten by a snake, earning herself a place working in the stables.  Her dreams of racing are reawakened when the owner of the blue faction arrives seeking a change in his fortunes.
This is an exciting and fast paced story of mystery and adventure in the Rome of the unpredictable emperor Caligula, set against a backdrop of political and sporting rivalry and intrigue and where the roles of men and women are clearly delineated.  Dido is a feisty and engaging heroine, uncompromising in her loyalty to family and friends, including the horses that she loves and seeks to protect.  The historical setting is vividly evoked in all its simmering heat and latent violence, but the real heart of the novel is the mutual respect and warmth that grows between the principal characters.  I found it a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying book.
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Thank you Zephyr and Head of Zeus for granting me this ARC! I was really intrigued by the mix of action, mystery and history this novel presented. I was really not disappointed, and every page kept me on the edge of my seat! This review will be crossposted in full on my blog "Bookmarked" ( and partially on Goodreads.


First of all, this book if chock full of historical details that I absolutely <em>loved</em>. The author did a really good job at picking out tiny facts and building upon them. And as someone born and bred in Rome like me, I could trace Dido's steps from memory. Lots of people will love this meticulous care—I know I did!

The racing scene were gorgeous. They were full of action, movement and adrenaline. I was catapulted right in the moment and they kept me at the edge of my seat! And like with everything else, Annelise Gray managed to keep beautifully true to history. I learnt about chariot racing as I held my breath with each of Dido's chariot's turns.

This book kept surprising me. I really enjoyed how it seamlessly incorporates mystery and intrigue in a story that was predominantly action-based. It added an extra layer to the story, giving it depth and sustaining my interest even when there wasn't as much breakneck racing to be had.

Lastly, Dido is a good heroine and role model. Driven, hardy and patient (and stubborn!), she is sure to inspire younger readers to chase their dreams no matter what! And Caligula is deliciously unsettling, making a great villain.


I felt that the pacing of the middle chapters was somewhat staggered. Although we get a lot of Dido's personality, we don't get as much in terms of motivations. Does she want to live peacefully, avenge her father, get Porcellus back, race at the Circus? She achieves all of those things by the end, but there wasn't a clear push towards any in the middle, I feel.

On a minor note, I felt that the naming of the horses was inconsistent (and a little weird?). It was strange, if not a little jarring, having a horse called Incitatus, or Perdix, alongside another called Snowy, or Thunder. Perhaps my Latin is failing me, but why would a horse be called "Little Pig" (Porcellus)?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and will be recommending it to both older and younger readers!
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Really good to have a book set in this period of history which has such enduring appeal for young readers.  A great read!
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This is a perfect Roman read for UKS2 classes or children 10+! The ideal blend of historical facts & feisty female hero, Dido, as she chases her dream of chariot racing at the Circus Maximus.  Ambition, revenge, redemption, hope & horses, this has it all! 

There's a wide cast of characters with authentic Roman names and backgrounds which can be tricky to get familiar with to begin with, however, I was hooked within the first few pages.  Gray writes knowledgeably about key Roman figures and customs (making it perfect for literature-led class topics) without losing the human touch of relationships.  Beautiful written, with great pace and adventure which will keep young readers enthralled.  Packed full of action, this novel has just the right measure of everything - emotion, tension, plot-twists and (MG level) violence.

I can't wait to use it in class, and I also look forward to the next installment of the series.
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A brilliant read for middle grade children set in Roman times with a female protagonist. Dido has her heart set on racing in the Circus Maximus, a fearsome chariot race reserved for men only. She has grown up watching it and looking after the horses that are involved, but it is only when her father meets an untimely death that her adventures start and she really understands what it is to become a chariot racer. Addictive adventure from start to finish.
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This took a little while to get into, because there were so many characters' names to get to grips with, both people and horses - and when horses seem to have the same names as people, that made it tricky to remember who was who (or what).  But, I'm reading this as a senior adult and it could be that the target age group would have no problem remembering all these names!

That said, I did really enjoy this.  It was fast paced and the setting so well portrayed, it made for a very interesting as well as a pacy read.  I think the horrors of Caligula were very well handled and pitched perfectly for this age group.  Very well researched.
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I don't often get the opportunity to review children's books so I was very pleased that I was accepted to review this one.  
It tells the story of Dido who dreams of becoming a female charioteer and racing in the Circus Maximus.  It does appear that fate has other ideas for her though.  
I thought this a delightful read.  Loved how the horses are portrayed.
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✨‘Don’t lose your heart to that horse, my girl. He’s a Fury.’✨
— Annelise Gray, Circus Maximus: Race to the Death

🌷It seems the book that I’ve been missing all my life is set in Ancient Rome, featuring a young girl who dreams of being a chariot racer in the Circus Maximus. 

To say I was surprised by this book is a total understatement! I was completely enthralled! Honestly, I wasn’t able to put this book down- and that hasn’t happened to me for a while! 

This book was an emotional rollercoaster! Dido is our protagonist and she is so strong willed and has such a thirst for greatness. It is her motivation to go forth. To overcome ever horror life throws at her. 

I need more Dido in my life!

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK! I’ll shout my love for it from the rooftops! 

Thank you so much @Netgallery and @HeadofZeus for giving me this free copy! I 100% LOVED IT! 

Read. Be happy. Stay safe.
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Dido has grown up in the world of chariot racing in ancient Rome, her father being the trainer for the famous Green faction, the most popular in Rome among the people, and with a young man called Caligula, great nephew of Emperor Tiberius. However, Dido is not content to stand back and watch, and under the reluctant tutelage of her father, she learns to handle a pair harnessed to a chariot, training her own horses, including a rather inauspicious steed called Porcellus. But disaster strikes and Dido must flee for her life, leaving behind all she knows, including Porcellus, and faces an uncertain future in north Africa, her deceased mother's home.

Annelise Gray has written a fabulous little tale for teens but one that can be read and enjoyed by anyone old enough to read it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. She conjures a world that focuses on the racing, a cross between Formula One and Premier League football, the same tribalism, the same hero-worship. 

I do enjoy young adult novels for their plot and action - with no adult content, the plot and characters have to stand up for themselves and they do so here very well. Romance is hinted at and the reader, if they are old enough, can imagine the rest and find the romance in the story. 

I can't help think that this novel owes a lot to the success of Caroline Lawrence, following in her footsteps, but Ms Gray does it very well and I can't fault it.
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This historical fiction by Annelise Gray is a fast-paced, thrilling read from start to finish. It sometimes suffers for the hurling speed, I found it difficult to keep up with who everyone was at times. But for the most past, I couldn't get enough of it. Blending actual historical figures and events with Dido's story was a stroke of genius and made it very believable. I found myself not only rooting for Dido but also the horses, who were characters in their own right.

I loved this and it's left me with a serious book hangover!
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