ARC Review: RACE TO THE DEATH by Annelise Gray (Middle Grade Monday)

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in black on a purple and yellows image of a girl on a horse looking over a landscape with a stadium rising in the background
Genre: Historical
Age range: MG
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: yes - first book


Book cover for RACE TO THE DEATH: Title in black on a purple and yellows image of a girl on a horse looking over a landscape with a stadium rising in the background

Circus Maximus, the greatest sporting stage of the ancient Roman world, where the best horses and charioteers compete in a race to the death, and one girl dreams of glory.

Twelve-year-old Dido dreams of becoming the first female charioteer at the great Circus Maximus. She’s lost her heart to Porcellus, a wild, tempestuous horse she longs to train and race. But such ambitions are forbidden to girls and she must be content with helping her father Antonius – the trainer of Rome’s most popular racing team, The Greens – and teaching the rules of racing to Justus, the handsome young nephew of the Greens’ wealthy owner.

When her father is brutally murdered, she is forced to seek refuge with an unlikely ally. But what of her dream of Circus triumphs and being reunited with the beloved horse she left behind in Rome? And the threat to her life isn’t over as she faces a powerful and terrifying new enemy… the emperor Caligula.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


RACE TO THE DEATH has been on my radar since I was involved in the cover reveal back in October 2020, so I was really excited to receive an ARC in the post. Ancient Rome, chariot racing, murder, and deadly emperors – what a perfect mix!

This book did not disappoint. It was such a fast-paced read that I could not put it down (I got pins and needles in my fingers from only moving to turn pages!) Dido’s story was so engrossing as she fled Rome, only to find unlikely allies in her quest to become a brilliant racing driving – and return to the first horse she trained.

The racing sections are edge-of-your-seat. Chariot Racing was the football of the day, but with much greater chance of death as factions played dirty, the crowd got involved, and a wrong turn would see your chariot smashed. On top of that was a weaving web of loyalties and old grudges making the arena even more dangerous, not to mention plenty of dirty tricks. Despite so many moving parts, the racing was easy to follow, tension ramping up and up with every lap.

The world is so vividly painted, bringing you into the sands and the heart-pounding danger of the races full of grudges and life-or-death stakes thanks to the petulant tyrant Caligula. Off the sands, the streets of Rome and the stables beyond Carthage are brought to exquisite life with so many wonderful details that show Annelise Gray’s background as a Classic’s student and Latin teacher.

Even though I’m not an animal lover (seriously, I do not like animals except at the aesthetic distance of a computer screen!), the book made me care deeply for the various horses Dido works and bonds with during the book. They were characters in the story as much as the humans.

It is the start of a series of historical fiction, and I cannot wait to see what comes next!

Read my reviews of other books by Annelise Gray:

Circus Maximus (this series):



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