Sunday 2 June 2013

Master and God by Lindsey Davis

I read this a while ago, actually have read quite a few books over the past months. This one I received as an ARC.

I must confess I am a big fan of the Falco "detective" series (set in Rome a few years earlier during the rule of Vespasian) also written by Lindsey Davis but had never read any of her historical novels before. And I had a slightly mixed response to Master and God.

Set during the rule of the Emperor Domitian, Master and God charts his rule through the eyes of two of his subjects - Gaius, a Praetorian Guard, and Hairdresser Flavia Lucilla. Now I'm pretty sure that the idea here is that because we are experiencing events through the eyes of two "ordinary" characters that we feel the terror of Domitian's rule more acutely than we otherwise would. However, I'm not sure I ever felt the threat and terror of Domitian as much as I needed to. I knew that the ordinary people were living in dangerous times because I was told, but I didn't get a complete sense of underlying fear - it was a time of disappearances where the wrong word could mean the end of your life but it felt a little safer than I think it needed to. You know how when you watch a television series every week and you know that even when the main characters are in dire peril they are still somehow going to survive - this had a similar feel. Maybe this was also because the parts which focus on Domitian are somewhat drier, so I didn't feel he was as present as perhaps he should have been in the story. Even when he wasn't 'on page' I feel that I should have had more of a sense of the threat of his presence.

What worked for me most were the characters of the ordinary people. Lindsey Davis has a brilliant way of getting you into the heads of her characters and making them real, partly I think through her ability to write colloquially which makes you feel as if you are there. I felt invested in the relationship that gradually developed between Gaius and Lucilla. They were very much two people caught up in situations that were beyond their control that they just had to make the best of. I think that where it didn't work for me as an historical novel, it absolutely worked as a story of two people from different worlds gradually coming together in a strong relationship. Lindsey Davis has a way of writing characters so that the reader appreciates not only what they say and do, but also what their motivations are, how they are thinking and how they judge the situations in which they find themselves.
'I respect you.'
'Don't insult me. You are a disgrace, Vinius.'
'So my wives tell me.'
She stormed off. The dog, who knew how to make choices, slunk after her.'
These are flawed people but they are all the more compelling because of that. Overall then, I very much enjoyed the book and would definitely try another historical novel by Lindsey Davis, though I think my first love will always be the Falco series. I think she makes the Roman era come alive and if you haven't read her work before I would definitely recommend it.

(Hopefully not too bad for my first review back

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