top of page

Book Review: Circus Maximus (Race to the Death) by Annelise Gray


'Set in ancient Rome, during the terrifying rule of Caligula in fact, Annelise Gray’s book is a mix of history, adventure and horses – a winning combination! Dido’s father trains riders and horses for the famous, and frequently deadly Circus Maximus chariot races. She dreams of being a charioteer too but that’s not allowed, and she’s stuck watching the boys compete. When her father is murdered, Dido has to flee Rome, leaving behind her beautiful horse Porcellus. But Fate will bring the two of them together again, and sees Dido compete in the Circus after all.

The story of Dido, Porcellus and their fellow riders and horses makes for thrilling reading. Gray transports the reader to Rome in a hoofbeat, places, people and the dangerous times vividly brought to life. Caligula plays a part in the book, and he’s not the only real person to do so – watch out for Cassius Chaerea too – but Dido is the star, as she makes her way in Rome’s macho world, determined to set her own path and avenge her father. A superb historical adventure story.'


Circus Maximus is a great book for anyone interested in heroines and horses! Dido is a spritely young girl who, like her favourite horse Porcellus, will not listen to authority and likes to play by her own rules. It is Dido's dream to be a charioteer but her father is weary for her safety in a heavily patriarchal world, especially after the loss of Dido's mother ever since Dido was little. After the murder of her father Dido is forced into adulthood where she must navigate perilous situations to be eventually be reunited with Porcellus.

Sometimes children are forced to deal with events in life that even grown adults struggle to deal with, and Circus Maximus deals with this beautifully. Dido is left to fend for herself after the death of her father and in the very male-dominated society of Ancient Rome, the whole world often seems to be working against her. In spite of this Dido perseveres and refuses to let anything or anyone get in the way of her dreams. However, Dido also goes through moments of doubt and grief, which in the end only make her stronger. Circus Maximus does a great job at teaching children that when presented with difficult situations, part of being strong and resilient is accepting that there will be moments where you feel lost and weak. The key is to not let these feelings overcome you and take over your identity.

The connection between Porcellus and Dido is extremely touching and something that any pet owner or horse rider can relate to. Horses can smell fear, and there is no doubt that Porcellus uses this to his advantage to keep people away, but the fearlessness, love and respect Dido shows Porcellus allows the two to interact and form a soul-bonding relationship. Unlike the others in this book Dido does not see Porcellus as an animal but as a kindred spirit, which is why their reunion is so heartwarming. This book would be well suited to young people who love horses and/ or are in need of a story with a strong female lead that doesn't take no for an answer.

45 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Managing 11+ exam stress and anxiety

Helping your child manage their nerves and anxiety before the Wirral 11+ exam is crucial for them to perform at their best. Here are some strategies to soothe their nerves and offer support: Open comm

How to improve your 11+ exam vocabuary

The 11+ exam is a crucial milestone for students seeking admission to selective schools. Alongside other subjects, a strong vocabulary is essential for success in the exam. Developing an extensive wor

Build the perfect 11+ exam vocabulary

How to Develop Vocabulary for the 11+ Exam A strong vocabulary is essential for success in the 11+ exams, as it forms the foundation of language comprehension and effective communication skills. Devel


bottom of page