30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2012
As someone who loves the books of Lindsey Davis, I pre-ordered this for my Kindle, and waited up for the download hour, just to read a bit before going to bed. Instead I read to the end, and don't grudge it a second of lost sleep. It's such a joy to be back in Davis' Rome - sweaty, vital, earthy, chaotic; yet grand, bureaucratic, over-organised (if never orderly), sure and proud of its importance to the world. A Rome which Davis inhabits so naturally I have moments of suspecting time-travel. Until I remember that her Rome is our Rome. (Berlusconi, anybody?). It is impossible to read this book and not feel the characters are us; up against it, just trying to keep our lives our own, with the same concerns - money, roof-over-head, work, messy marriages, kids, being suckers for our sad-eyed, scheming pets. Same hopes and ambitions. And - in the current climate of rage and rebellion, as dictatorship after dictatorship implodes - the same fears.
From the very start, as a wraith of smoke rises over the Vigiles (police-cum-fire) station where our man Clodianus is twiddling his thumbs, there is the sense of a world, and a man, on the edge of change. It's the moment he meets Flavia Lucilla - young and fierce, independent, but still far too naive. Then Rome burns. Clodianus, battle-scarred ex-legionary, becomes the hero of the fire, and the resultant meeting with Domitian - the traumatised, narcissistic, paranoid, finally psychotic 'Master and God' of the title - sets Clodianus on the road that leads him to choices none of us would ever want to have to make. That he travels this road in the company of Lucilla - co-tenant, then friend, then love - is the making of them both, and the novel. Because it is through their lives, their relationships, and their growing disquiet at a vicious, ever more unstable despot, that the history comes alive. This has always been Davis' gift - to use detail (food, clothes, beliefs, jokes, debatable hairstyles) and modern vernacular speech, to make us feel comfortable, almost familiar with a world 2000 years away. And at the heart of Davis' craft is, well, heart. Humour and humanity. Clodianus and Lucilla have the instinct for both; they are loyal, compassionate; they are scathing, they squabble; they rage for the murdered, the helpless and the betrayed. Yet they approach their world head on, with the sharp and even surreal humour we would all wish to muster. They are good-hearted, honest and kind. People I would like to have as friends.
But there is, as ever, humour in the narrative too. The comedy of the doctor's waiting room, the bawdy aged neighbour, the mutt; a laugh-out-loud joke about palanquins. It is this wit and warmth that has made the Falco novels so popular. But the other great strength, of those books and this, is that there is also anger. At the suffering, the poverty, the snobbery, the barbarity and the self-interest of the Roman world. At two particular instances of almost avidly cruel punishment, I was angry too. Even before I remembered that such crimes against the individual, against humanity, continue - just watch the news.
Which is why, on arriving at their final choices, Clodianus and Lucilla are so true. Because they choose to do what we would hope to do. The climax of this book is the stark reminder that, every day, ordinary people are faced with decisions this terrifying, this suicidal and this brave. This, in the end, is the story of those 'good men' and women who choose not to 'do nothing'. It's about what this will cost them, and their willingness to pay.
It struck me, at the end, that I have rarely read a book, seen a film, about a tough career soldier that was not all gung-ho, bullets and bomb blasts, look-at-me heroics; that felt real. This does. Clodianus is a man who is good at his job, accepts its dangers, and has suffered for it, and for Rome. He is a 'good Roman' in the way that Stauffenberg and von Trott were 'good Germans'; they watched the country they loved poisoned from the inside, and they acted to make that horror end. They chose to risk dying - condemned as traitors - rather than see what was still good in their country destroyed. There are people risking everything for this same good right now. There always will be. Those for whom non-violence is a luxury we have no right to cling to in the face of other people's pain. That Davis has produced a thumping good read driven by such a frightening premise is only what I would expect from her. Who else, in the acres and acres of research reading, would have noticed the name of a man, barely mentioned, and wondered about him, sided with him, then given him a voice. That she found, behind the absurd fashions of the Imperial court, a woman with such energy and such a subversive (though never sneering) sense of humour - such a match for this flawed,courageous man - is only right. I finished this book hoping that the Fates granted the real Clodianus, and whoever his Lucilla may have been, the ending his 'biographer' has given them here. This is a book about people who have earned the right to peace.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2012
This review refers to the Kindle version.
Having recently read all the Falco series, I would say that this novel is similar but there are several differences which may put off fans of those books.
The main one is that this story is written in the third person as opposed to the first. There is still a fair share of cynicism and sarcasm but you don't get the snappy asides and put downs that occur regularly throughout MDF's trials and tribulations.
It is not a detective story either although one of the main characters is an investigator at various points in the book.
I also didn't feel it had quite as much humour as the Falco series but being set in the rather darker period of Domitian's rule as opposed to Vespasian's this is appropriate.
There are several minor characters from the Falco books who turn up here or are referred to but there isn't any real continuity from that series. This is definitely a stand alone novel so do not worry if you haven't read the Falco books. You won't have missed anything important to the plot and if you go on to read the Falco series later, I don't believe I spotted much that would ruin any of those plots either.
Several people have commented on the scene with the fly. I'm not really sure what to make of it myself. It just seemed odd and there was nothing similar in the rest of the book.
There are some large chunks without dialogue. This didn't bother me but your mileage may vary.
Concerning authenticity and whether certain words or phrases would have been in use at the time: I spotted what I think are a couple of examples where this seemed to be the case but I'm not a scholar of Roman history so this is just a feeling. Nothing particularly jarred though.
One point I would make, particularly if you are new to Lindsey Davis books is that there is a certain amount of swearing - some of it quite strong. I wouldn't call it prolific but if you, or someone you are buying this for, do not appreciate the F word several times, you may want to avoid.
There are also several conscious or unconscious nods to Rosemary Sutcliffe, who wrote the Eagle of the Ninth and several other novels about Roman Britain. The most obvious being the inclusion of a song from The Eagle (and a new bawdier version of it as well). This is referenced directly in an addendum. Also, one of the main characters having serious wounds or a disability, which is a common theme in the Sutcliffe books.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I didn't find it too long. My interest didn't flag and unlike some, I found the seperate themes of Domitian's descent into paranoia and the developing love story between Vinius and Lucilla to work well together. I've knocked one star off because before I would have preferred another Falco novel but this is still well worth reading.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I won't repeat the storyline as its well covered in the publishers description above.
Like others, I ordered this with a degree of nervousness, as this was Davis writing about the first family of Rome around the time of Falco without Falco popping up and offering his sarcastic and sardonic take on the machinations of the imperials.
The further I got into the book, the happier I became. This is Davis at her best. I love Davis's style of writing when she's writing about Rome, but this is also; intentional or not, allegorical in nature and speaks a lot about tyrants through the ages and the paranoia high office can bring - plots around every corner, real or imagined. Every imperial family had them; Gaius (Caligula), Nero, Domitian, Commodus to name four Romans, Henry VIII would be another.
Davis is another of those historical mystery/crime writers who can weave a complex and plausible story around actual events and do it exceptionally well.
I would recommend this book without hesitation.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The first thing I want to say about this book is that I enjoyed it. The second is that I have reservations about it. If you are expecting a Falco book you will be disappointed. This book is set in Rome a few years after Falco's time (though I suspect he is still alive). Vespasian is dead and so is his elder, more favoured son, Titus. Domitian the younger, less reliable son is emperor. This book tells the story of Domitian's rule . . . but it also tells the story of Lucilla and Vinius, and I don't think they work together.
I suspect that Domitian has fascinated Lindsey Davis for ages and that she really wanted to write about him but has been persuaded to add a love story to humanise it. Being Lindsey Davis the love story is excellent and Lucilla and Vinius are interesting and sympathetic characters. I should have much preferred two books - a historical account devoted to Domitian and a historical romance about Lucilla and Vinius. It is true that what happens to Lucilla and Vinius is controlled by what is happening in Rome, but their story would work better with less historical detail and suffers because their love story is not fully fleshed out. Equally, their love story is a distraction when considering the Domitian story.
To look at the book in detail Vinius is a member of the Praetorian Guard, the army division who protect the emperor. Lucilla is a freedwoman who is one of the hairdressers to the court. They become involved when they share the lease of an apartment that neither can afford alone. They have met once before when Lucilla was very young. Vinius is married but is using the apartment as an investment and a place where he can hide from his wife. During the book we see their relationship grow and wane and grow again. Interspersed with their story are chunks of narrative history telling us what is going on in Rome.
These two elements never combine properly. The only characters who are fleshed out are Vinius and Lucilla. Other characters in their story flit about, but we don't know them. None of the people in the historical sections are treated as characters in a novel. Huge opportunities have been lost. Lucilla is a hairdresser to the empress, her relations and ladies. This relationship could have been explored and given us really interesting insights into the workings of the imperial court. Domitian is a fascinating character but he has not been imagined and humanised as a character in a novel. He is a character in a history book and he never really comes alive.
I enjoyed this book. I can't imagine Lindsey Davis writing a book that I didn't enjoy, but I really would like to split it into two books - a historical narrative about Domitian exploring what made him tick and a book set in Rome about Lucilla and Vinius.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Ms Davis weaves a tale about a young Roman army man mixed up in the coming to power and subsequent of Domitian, disappointing son of Vespasian, the emperor who famously introduced charges for using public toilets. As with her Falco books, Ms Davis creates a convincing story set against the background of the chaos and might of the early Roman empire. I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the characters and I enjoyed the narrative. For those who have read the Falco books, the hero of the story, Gaius Vinius Glaudiamus, and the hairdresser, who is the love of his life, albeit by a tortuous route, Lucilla, are reminiscent of Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Justina, although possibly even more awkward. That said, books set in the lifetime of Domitian are rare and this one is a thoroughly good read with I recommend.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
I have been a Lindsey Davis fan after finding her first Falco book in a small bookshop in Dublin. I got pretty bored by the 20th one though! Master & God initially really bucked me up. It seemed to contain more of the original wit and invention that drove the first 4 books. Its characters were not just re-runs of Falco characters either. The core love story was also both touching and well-developed.
BUT - too long, too long, too long. 100 pages could easily be edited out with zero loss to the story line. 150 pages before the end I realised the author was determined to weave into the plot almost EVERY reference to Domitian's reign as Emperor that ANY classical source can provide. Even extant head stones get a mention! Anal and boring (and I quite often rather like completism). I suspect it will rob others of the will to live - or at least finish the novel. It's like Davis decided to combine 2 books she had already written - one a domestic tale set in Domitian's reign the other a critique of that reign. It's bold but it creaks. Having one chapter written from the point of view of a named fly is just plain odd!
Having said that, Davis is still a flowing and stylish writer who knows how to put things well. She makes ancient Rome come alive, and taught me a great deal as I read. BUT - too long, too long. Someone should have dared to edit more boldly. I was also thrown by the tentative nature of the book's blurb. Clearly her new publishers are not sure what they have got either. This is a well-known, well-established author made to sound on the covers like she is a newcomer in the 'style of Ken Follett' (absolute bunk - more like Robert Harris). Maybe the Falco word has been banned!
Worth it if you are a fan already, and love ancient Roman stuff. If new to her, for goodness sake, buy an early Falco novel. (and forgive her the turgid boredom that can be found in her middle period - like Last Act in Palmyra, the only book ever that I have failed to finish 3 times!)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2012
Lindsey Davis' first novel, "The course of honour" weaves a seamless fabirc of historical truth and fiction into a powerful and credible love story. Her latest novel heroically tries, and sadly fails, to repeat this feat.
The devil of this failure is - like most devils - in the detail. Davis is an incredibly good researcher. There is no doubt that she amassed many volumes of background information prior to writing this very comprehensive novel...and herein lies the problem. There is so much information crammed in that the reader feels dizzied by it. Page after page of historical background is relayed to us - so much that I found myself skim-reading entire chapters looking for the "good stuff". There certainly is a fair share of that of course. Davis has won well-deserved praise for her Roman historical/detective fiction and there are episodes that take the breath away. Our Praetorian hero's dogged determination to lead his men through the desperation of their years of captivity for instance, and the inventive chapter related from a fly's eye view, but for much of the time the story seemed to lay fallow.
I think another problem is that our Praetorian and his hairdressing lover are, to a certain extent, on the sidelines of the Emperor Domitian's slide into paranoid madness. Rather than hearing from things first hand, as we do in "The course of honour", we find our main characters almost being used as ventroloquist's dummies by Davis - force-feeding us background information half-coated by their catty little remarks on it, but not lending anything significant to the storyline.
In the end, what I think what Davis should have done was to hire a brutally honest copy-editor with a really big red pen. She could easily have cut 200 pages out of this weighty novel and created a lighter, tighter and more thrilling book as a result. Instead, we have been presented with an interesting work, with glimmers of greatness, but also flabby with unfulfilled promise - not unlike the "Master and God" himself.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
For those who may not know Lindsey Davis is an English historical novelist, and is probably best known for her authorship of the Falco series of crime stories set in ancient Rome and its corresponding empire. Her historical based novels use allusions and references to actual history, geography of the events that are to be depicted, even when the core the story is fiction the care and detail that is used always seem is if they could fit into the tapestry of the life and times of that period. For this reader her stories are not told at the expense historical inaccuracies, and this for what better set of words is the secret of her success. Please do not go into this novel thinking it is another Falco themed novel. Instead we are dealt a new set of characters; from a very paranoid Emperor, our main protagonist Gaius a member of the Praetorian Guard and then there is Flavia Lucilla our Female protagonist a high ranking official from within the Emperors court.
The Praetorian Guard were specially selected soldiers, whose sole role is to protect the Emperor and family, in Robert Grave's novel I Claudius the Praetorian Guard made up of Germanic tribes man and not linked to the rest of Roman military. This division was intentional, so that there is one loyalty and no confusion in that loyalty. As their existence was directly linked to survival of their Emperor. I have always been intrigued by this so called elite body guard, and this is one of the main reasons I was interested in this book.
There seems to be two stories here, the first the interplay between Gaius and Flavia and blossoming love against the background of court intrigue and the Emperors problems, dangers and fears. There is another narrative told here and it is a critique of Domitian's rule and the Rome of that period.
While Lindsey Davis has tackled historical novels, based in different cultures and historical periods, for me it seems that Roman history is her best time and place to write about, overall this book is more stand alone novel from the Falco series and has different feel to it. A good read, that ticked most of my boxes and hence my 5 star recommendation.
Just a quick note to say this was a review based on a paperback version of the book