REVIEW: Master and God by Lindsey Davis
Gaius Vinius Clodianus is a reluctant Praetorian Guard, with a disastrous marriage history and post-traumatic stress – but he is a hero. Flavia Lucilla has given the imperial ladies a ridiculous hairstyle and makes toupees for the increasingly paranoid emperor – and she is good at her job. A devastating fire in Rome starts their story then a shared apartment brings them together, leading to a lifelong friendship, passion and love.
Together they watch Domitian’s once talented rule unravel into madness and cruelty, until the people closest to the Emperor conspire to delete him from history. As an imperial bodyguard, Gaius then faces an impossible dilemma, where the bloody outcome inevitably threatens his and Lucilla’s hopes of a future together and even their lives.
Dear Ms. Davis,
Lots of chapters here start with – and in some cases are almost all about – history or literature or whatever lessons. Interesting, certainly, but after a few pages it dawns that this is a history lesson and I begin to get a touch antsy for some action. Not necessarily fights or brawls or covert stuff but just any scenes with actual dialogue and movement. I suppose this was your way of using up all the bits and pieces of your years of research into classical Rome that had somehow never made it into one of the Falco books or perhaps only a touch here and there but not all the lovely stuff you’d discovered that was just sitting around on your research heaps just begging to be used more fully. Nonetheless, I did amuse myself by imagining these being told to me in the voice of Stephen Fry. His is almost perfect for dishing amusing tidbits and the salacious gossip of history
Still some of the information is more interesting to me than – say – the philosophy stuff so some chapters moved faster than others. Choosing the Flavian dynasty to use as your time frame makes sense in that there’s enough going on to make events interesting and enable your characters to do and see interesting things without it being too unsettled a time – such as the year of the four emperors – or during Caligula’s madness so that readers would be constantly worried about people we’d be pissed about if they didn’t make it through.
I see that Seutonius is also a large source of the little details that are so cleverly worked into the story. I once tried to read “The Twelve Caesars” but found it dry going. This is so much more fun and easy to digest.
When I read the description of the book, I imagined that it would be two courtiers who would be the main characters but making the story center on Lucilla and Gaius is genius. They’re close enough to the various centers of action all over the city and even on Domitian’s military trips that their presence never seems forced or out of place. I never once thought, “Now why would he or she be there then? That makes no sense beyond needing it for the plot to work.” Yet they’re not well known historical figures so you can do whatever you want with their private lives. I also like seeing how the little people live in history. The tiny, mundane details of making a living, where to set up housekeeping, what they ate. Which reminds me that I must try some Chicken Frontinian at some point since it’s Gaius’s favorite.
Gaius and Lucilla aren’t perfect people and that sort of endears them to me. Gaius is a mess with the women in his life and indeed goes through five wives before finally coming to his senses about Lucilla and both of them catching each other at the right time in their personal lives. Sort of like Rhett Butler chivvying Scarlett to the altar because he didn’t want to wait to catch her between husbands again. They’re two people who others know are perfect for each other but who refuse to see or act on their feelings for each other until their friends are about ready to knock some sense into them. The first night they spend together after finally acknowledging their love is sweet and poignant and so deeply moving as to almost make me cry it’s so perfect. It takes them a while to get things right but once they do, it’s forever and I have no doubt of it.
Anyone looking for a quick or easy read needs to rethink or move on to something else. This story is like a rich, dense piece of chocolate cake or a hearty lentil stew vs a puffed up slice of angels food or a quick McDinner fast food gobble. At times it is slow going and one must occasionally stop and push back from the table to savor what’s already been consumed before going on but the rewards of learning all about the world of Rome during Domitian and seeing Gaius find his Gaia/Lucilla are well worth the time and effort involved in finishing it. B