Rivals on the Track Blog Tour: Guest Post and Review

Hello everybody! Today, I’m so thrilled to be part of Annelise Gray’s blog tour for the second in her Circus Maximus series, with a guest post and my review. Onto the post!


As I mentioned in the introduction, this is the sequel to Race to the Death, which follows a girl named Dido who lives in the Ancient Roman time period. After her father is killed, she dresses as a boy to achieve her dream of being a charioteer, and events quickly spiral into chaos, meaning Dido has to go into hiding at the end to avoid being captured and potentially killed by cruel emperor Caligula.

Something I think that makes this an incredibly effective sequel that links in with book one and follows up the story arcs it began, but also stands on it’s own feet, is the fact that is both set in a different location (we travel to Scorpus’ father and brother’s stable, as a competition with amazing monetary prizes is being held nearby), and also that we get a really good mix of characters we already know, but learn more about in this new installment, and others who are completely new.

Dido’s character development continued to be so intriguing and well done, and I think although she has had to grow up prematurely, she’s a much more mature person by the end of book 2, who is sometimes still impulsive but always ends up doing the right thing.

Her relationship with her stallion Porcellus is just gorgeous, and my favourite new character was undoubtedly Jewel, who only has one eye but is a very talented chariot racing horse. I loved learning more about Scorpus and Dido’s mother’s family they grew up in as well, even though some of it was kind of heartbreaking, and I think the author’s expertise on the historical period the book is set in is very clear in the text.

I actually thought this may be a duology based on the ending and the way it kind of wraps a lot of things up quite nicely, but Annelise has since confirmed on Twitter that there will be at least one more book, so I’m really looking forward to picking that up in 2023!

And now, over to Annelise!

My Favourite Horses in Children’s Fiction

Raymond Chandler famously gave the following advice to writers of detective fiction – ‘When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.’ During the times when I felt like things weren’t working with the first draft of both Circus Maximus: Race to the Death and its sequel Rivals on the Track, I would look at my own adaptation of that quote, which I keep written on a card at the back of my desk. ‘When in doubt, put a horse in the scene.’ 

And more often than not, it did the trick. I was a long way into the first draft of Rivals on the Track when I thought up the character of Jewel, the one-eyed horse who Dido rescues from a callous owner in the second chapter. Like Porcellus – the main equine character in Race to the Death – Jewel is an important member of the cast in her own right. She has her own personality, her own back story, and as soon as she came on the scene, I knew I had found the part of the book that was missing. Here are some of my favourite horses from children’s fiction. Several of them have inspired the characterisation of the horses in the Circus Maximus adventures.

1.The Pie (National Velvet, Enid Bagnold)

‘A piebald horse, naked of leather, wild and alone….it had strange eyes, a white wall eye and one of darkest blue’. That’s the reader’s first encounter with The Pie, the seemingly untameable horse later won in a raffle by fourteen-year-old Velvet Brown who convinces herself that the so-called ‘perishing piebald’ could win the Grand National, the greatest race in the world. My favourite novel about horses and one of my favourite books ever.

2. Ginger (Black Beauty, Anna Sewell)

The narrator of this classic tale about a horse who experiences both kindness and cruelty from his owners during the different phases of his life is of course Black Beauty himself. But the character who stays with you forever is Ginger, the quick-tempered chestnut mare who tells Beauty ‘I never had anyone, horse or man, that was kind to me, or that I cared to please.’ 

3. Artax (The Neverending Story, Michael Ende)

I’m cheating here because I have to confess that I’ve never read Michael Ende’s book. However, like a lot of my generation, I was obsessed with the 1984 movie version. A young warrior called Atreyu is tasked with finding out how to prevent the destruction of the kingdom of Fantasia by a dark force called The Nothing. In a famous scene, Atreyu is crossing the Swamps of Sadness with his horse Artax. If you’ve seen it, you know why I’ve included Artax in this list, and I’m afraid there’s nothing more to be said.

4. The Black (The Black Stallion, Walter Farley)

A different kind of confession. I have read Walter Farley’s book and I loved it. But once again, it’s the film version which captured my heart. A young boy and an Arabian stallion are shipwrecked together on an island. They depend on each other for survival and form an unbreakable bond. The soundtrack to this film is beautifully evocative and I listen to it a lot when I’m writing the Circus Maximus books.

5. Storm Warning (The One Dollar Horse, Lauren St. John)

The One Dollar Horse came out in 2013 so didn’t feature in the reading landscape of my childhood. But it’s a terrific adventure and I recommend it to any young readers looking for a contemporary horse and pony story with a classic feel. Casey Blue, a teenager whose dad has just got out of prison and who doesn’t come from the typically privileged background of many horse-mad kids, rescues a starving, half-wild horse who she christens Storm Warning, and trains him up to compete at the Badminton Horse Trials. 

If you’d like to read the guest post Annelise wrote for last year’s Race to the Death Blog tour as well you can do that here.

Thank you so much for reading! Have you read these books or are they on your TBR? Who are some of your favourite fictional horses? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Amy xx

Author: goldenbooksgirl

Disabled book blogger who also writes TV, film, music and other posts from time to time | UKYABA Champion Teen 2018 | Email: goldenbooksgirl@gmail.com | she/her

3 thoughts on “Rivals on the Track Blog Tour: Guest Post and Review”

  1. Horse in fiction really do steal my heart. Ginger, especially. I love that this is set in gladatorial times. That makes it quite unusual. I have not read this, but would hope that the severity of conditions for creatures and competitors was well dealt with – not skirted around? One I think I will read, as soon as I can get through my stack.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would definitely say that it goes into cruel it was as a practice, I don’t want to give spoilers but several people are quite badly injured and Caligula is very much presented as a villain. I really hope you enjoy them 😊


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