I Am Spartapuss by Robin Price
|I Am Spartapuss by Robin Price|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Sue Fairhead|
|Summary: Life in Ancient Rome... ruled not by humans but by cats.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 192||Date: March 2005|
This is a slightly strange book. It's history, disguised as the diary of a slave-cat in Ancient Rome, and full of groanworthy puns. As I read it, I found myself unsure, at times, whether it was really very clever, or just irritatingly silly. It somehow managed to be both. The blurb on the back describes it as a 'witty Roman romp', which is exactly what it is. It's Ancient Rome - approximately - in a universe where cats rather than humans are in charge. Indeed, humans don't seem to exist at all, although other animals and some birds feature in the book. There's plenty of romping, and it's certainly witty.
Spartapuss, who is a cat slave (though quite a superior one) narrates the book in diary form. He is in charge of the 'spatopia', a kind of Roman spa. He is treated reasonably well by the owner Clawdius, who's related to the Emperor Tiberius. His worst problem is ensuring that there is no slanderous graffiti on the walls.
One day the emperor is due to make a visit, so everyone makes a massive effort to prepare a suitable banquet. At the last moment, Spartapuss learns that the emperor is away; instead they will be entertaining his grandson Catligula, who is not popular at all. Disaster strikes when Catligula eats too much too fast; then Spartapuss is arrested on grounds of poisoning...
It's not a long book, but it took me a while to get into it. There's a cast list at the front, and I had to refer to it several times. Other than Spartapuss, I didn't find the characters particularly memorable. However, the feline puns - which come thick and fast in places - did make me smile. For instance, Spartapuss swears by the god Mewpiter, remembers the Emperor Augustpuss, and discusses potential pawtents of doom.
I thought that the idea of Ancient Rome being run by cats is ingenious, and it worked well on the whole. Banquets consist of the kinds of food cats like, and important cats recline on comfortable cushions. However, I was less certain about how weapons for gladiatorial games could be wielded by cats.
The book is intended for confident readers; the vocabulary is fairly complex, and some knowledge of Ancient Rome is needed to make any sense of it. The run-up to the gladiator games is quite suspenseful, and although there isn't too much gore, the implications of how fighters and wild beasts were treated are fairly horrific. Probably realistic, but not for the very young or over-sensitive. I imagine children of about eight to twelve would enjoy this book most; those studying the Romans in history might like reading it as extra background. It reminded me a little of the 'Horrible History' series. Children or young teens who liked those would probably find this fun too, particularly if they are cat-lovers.
Thanks to the publishers for sending it to The Bookbag.
For more light-hearted history, you might like The Comic Strip History of the World by Sally Kindberg and Tracey Turner.
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