Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Deadliest Sport by June Trop: A Review

BOOK TITLE: The Deadliest Sport: A Miriam bat Isaac Mystery in Ancient Alexandria

AUTHOR: June Trop

ISBN/ASIN: 978-1626947559

GENRE: Mystery, Historical Fiction


FORMAT: Digital

SERIES / STANDALONE: Miriam bat Isaac #3

HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank iRead Book Tours for this review copy


Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath.

When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady and dangerous enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam's elderly charge, turns up missing; Amram becomes seriously ill; and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?


The book's summary had just enough stuff to make me want to pick up the book. I initially began reading this without the idea that this was part of a series, but with the summary it showed me that it could be read as a standalone. The cover's theme fit with the summary and had the detailing required to match the summary. The single tagline was also impressive, making me want to read the book.

It is a joy to read a book that has been written after a lot of research. It is even better if an author is able to transport you to a period in history you know very little about. The Deadliest Sport did that for me. The first things I noticed with the book were all the things that would make me want to read the other books in the series. It is fast paced, is actually well researched and is written seamlessly with a strong female lead. Nowhere in the narration did the book feel disjointed or jerky, even enough to remind me that this was the third book in a series, the first two of which I had not read.

Twins usually fall into one of two stereotypes - the close 'we complete each other's sentences' kind, or the 'we are polar opposites in our beliefs and behaviour' kind. Whether or not this is an actual twins' trait, fiction usually depicts one of these two kinds when the book is based on twins as leading characters. Miriam and Binyamin are of the latter kind, both with differing ideas of life, glory and work. Maybe it was specific to the time period with aggressiveness of gladiators, and the passive nature of alchemists, both of them stay true to their characters. I really loved the portrayal of Binyamin as the power hungry gladiator who has his sights set on Rome and Miriam as the woman who wants to keep the family and home intact, hoping that her brother would help. What happens when he does not, forms the rest of the story.

The book clearly has enough twists to hold its own, and the narrative is strong and keeps the reader engaged throughout without unnecessary stagnation. I loved that this book made me want to explore Miriam and her world more, mainly through other works of this author. The book also instilled in me a love for historical fiction with strong women leads, preferably based in the Roman Empire times. I consider this by itself the success of the book because it made me want to read more. The mystery element of the book took some time to grow on me, with the murders coming in at their pace, but nevertheless I could not really put the book down because the characters and the narration held me tight. 

  • I was totally new to the time period this book was set on, but I could see that the book transported the reader to that era through writing.
  • Miriam as a character stood out, and had a strong coherent narration throughout. It is easy to see how she was based on an actual person.
  • Though it was a part of a series I had not read before, I had no difficulty relating with the characters. Special mention to the writing for this. The integration from past novels was seamless.
  • For the intriguing premise, the actual execution fell a little below the bar, with no real adrenaline surges in the narration, even with enough moments to create them.
  • Though it was really suited to the time period, the aggressive men / passive women concept could have been given a little respite. This surely would have made the book much more enjoyable than it already was.
  • The overall narration is good, but the book did fall flat in some places with long winding words that crammed information without action.

The book made me want to read more from this author, and also others from this time period. It was successful that way.



June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, "The Steam Shavel [sic]," when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.

"I don't remember how I spent my share," June says. "You could buy a fistful of candy for a penny in those days, but ever since then, I wanted to be a writer."

As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students' imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling. Her first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin Press, 2009), is based on the stories new teachers told about their first classroom experiences.

Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing The Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. Her heroine is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.

June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine's next life-or-death exploit.


PRICE $12.99 for Paperback.


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