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REVIEW: Flavia’s Secret by Lindsay Townsend

Dear Ms. Townsend,  

lt-fs3Books set in ancient Rome or Roman Britain automatically get points from me. I dunno why. Maybe it’s the thought of those strong men running around in skirts and draped bed linens. But anyway, I’ve sought them out for years from back in the days when you couldn’t find one for love nor money. So kudos to you for choosing this setting for your book. Now for the bad news. I would have liked this book more if I’d read it ten years ago. As it is, I’ve read so many books, regardless of the setting, with similarly acting characters that I can’t appreciate it as much as I would like.

Marcus Brucetus has finally shown up to claim what his adopted mother left him after her death. A house in Bath, land in the country and five town slaves. If only he’d be an absentee landlord and leave them alone, Flavia and the others would be happy as pigs in slop. When he starts asking questions about how and under what circumstances the Lady Valeria died, Flavia gets cold chills at the thought of what might happen to them all if her subterfuge is discovered. Rome isn’t known for its kindness to slaves. But they all soon discover an even worse threat in the person of Lucius Maximus, the new decurian of Bath, who is man who goes after what he wants – which is almost everything.

Flavia is everyone’s darling. She’s beautiful, intelligent, brave, kind, looks after mistreated children and small animals. Every man under 45 wants her bad yet she’s totally unaware of how her staggering beauty affects them. She’s the daughter her now deceased mistress never had, the pet of the older house slaves, the object of loathsome, lustful desire of the villain and the object of pure, though hot, desire of the hero. She’s damn near perfect. And even when she stomps off in a snit or goes out alone into the wild frenzy of Saturnalia, while the hero might be near mad with anxiety over her fate, he still just ends up swooping her into his manly arms and worshipping her. I’d like to be Flavia.

Marcus is way to concerned over whether or not Flavia wants him. He worries over his definite feelings and her possible feelings like a psychoanalyst. He’s determined to woo her and win her – trust first then nookie – way past when most men would toss in the towel and head off to check out the toga girls at the baths. Yes, he has the example of his parents in front of him but, gosh, he’s just so perfect as well. Handsome, righteous, doesn’t believe in lifelong slavery, is also kind to poor children and all animals, has great fighting moves and loves to banter with and tease Flavia. I’d bring him home to meet mother but all this perfection makes me wonder if he secretly enjoys farting at public dinners.

The villain is evil and little more than a prop to show how wonderful the hero is. Maximus is clever about his source of the information he uses to control the town but other than that, he’s just an ancient mob boss with a perpetual hard-on for Flavia.

The denouement is very melodramatic. Flavia escapes one source of loathsome desire only to plunge headfirst into what we all knew was coming from the time Maximus made his first appearance in the book. Then she has to wail and wring her hands while listening to Maximus spell out the Big Misunderstanding before she gets caught. And how many times does she escape being violated? Enough to remind me of a 1980s style romance heroine.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Well, what did this bitch like about my book?” The historical details are lovely. The time and place are very well done. Brava for picking a spot other than Londinium or the border with the wild Caledonians. I have to admit that while reading the scenes in the baths, I couldn’t help but think of all the Regency and Georgian era books I’ve read with all the characters trooping down to take a glass of the healthful waters – hold your nose while you drink that nasty, sulfurous stuff!

And the conflict between the hero and heroine – i.e. the source of the title of the book – is fantastic. Now here’s a real reason for the heroine to hold her tongue and keep things from the hero. When faced with the possible fate meted out to slaves whose master dies suddenly, I’d do just what Flavia does and then some.

I also liked the character of Lady Valeria. “But she’s dead when the book starts,” you say? Never mind that. You’ve done such a nice job describing her, her habits, her personality, and her life that for me she came alive anyway. I think I would have liked sitting down to tea with her.

I think this book illustrates Jane’s theory that a C grade isn’t necessarily a bad grade. The things that bothered me probably won’t even matter to many while, for the setting alone, I would have bought a copy if you hadn’t offered it to DA for review. The description of your newest book intrigues me and I can honestly say that I will be trying more stories from you. C+

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Multiformat from Fictionwise.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

16 Comments

  1. Moth
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 05:21:01

    Oooh, see I’ve been DYING for more good books set in Ancient Rome too.

    I liked Michelle Style’s Gladiator’s Honor but her other books disappointed me (Particularly the one with the plot she ripped off from Georgette Heyer).

    I also grabbed one called Sword of Rome at the library which featured a Roman tribune and a Bedouin princess but it was (unsurprisingly) so over the top I couldn’t get through it.

    Are there any other good Roman romances out there that you can recommend to me, Jayne? They don’t even have to be romances actually. I’ll take almost anything set in ancient rome as long as the ending isn’t too depressing. *hopeful face*

  2. Jayne
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 07:06:47

    Moth, go up to the tags section of this review and click on “roman britain” and “ancient rome.” All the Roman era books I’ve reviewed here should come up. Of course there are the mystery series set in Rome (and parts around Rome) that you could check out if you haven’t already. If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend “The Warlord’s Mistress.” Dreadful title, I know but darn good book.

  3. DS
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 08:35:55

    I have a soft spot for two books by Merline Lovelace set in the Roman world. One, Alena, is a 1994 Harlequin Historical which probably isn’t in print. It was set in Roman Britain. The other is a time travel called Somewhere In Time which was also published in 1994 and has some time travel plot holes, but it was entertaining enough that I forgot about them (that’s hard for me) and just rode with the story. I think that one has been reprinted a couple of times.

  4. Lindsay Townsend
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 09:18:21

    Dear Jayne,

    Thank you for your fair and helpful review of my ‘Flavia’s Secret’. I’ve always enjoyed the ancient world and I’m glad it showed through. Happy 2009!

    Lindsay

  5. Kalen Hughes
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 09:21:34

    My godmother’s Roman trilogy was sold as “historical fiction”, but they’re full of romance (and I simply LOVE them). They were also put out under a man’s name, cause “historical fiction doesn’t sell under a woman’s name”. Ugh.

    They’re LONG OOP, but you can still find ‘em used (looks like paperback swap has them):

    The Centurions, Barbarian Princess (oh how she hated that title) and The Emperor’s Games by Damion Hunter.

  6. Jayne
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 10:01:01

    DS, I ADORE “Alena.” It ain’t PC at all which is fine with me. “Somewhere in Time” is also good as is another book she wrote set in ancient Greece – the title of which is escaping me right now.

  7. Jayne
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 10:03:38

    Oooh Kalen, I’m rubbing my hands at this information. And I totally agree on that second title. ::shudders::

  8. Jayne
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 10:05:46

    Lindsay, thanks for being a good sport about the grade. I bet that alone will get more people to buy and try the book than anything I could say. I am serious about wanting to see what you’ll publish next.

  9. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 10:56:38

    What’s a “Decurian”? I’ve heard of a decurion, in the military, and there were also decurions who were the equivalent of modern city councillors.

  10. Kalen Hughes
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 11:22:47

    Oooh Kalen, I'm rubbing my hands at this information. And I totally agree on that second title. ::shudders::

    If you don’t mind a tragic romance, she also wrote a wonderful novel under her own name (Amanda Cockrell) about the Ninth Legion Hispana (I got my jones for all things Roman early and legitimately, LOL!):

    The Legions of the Mist

    Sometime during the beginning of the second century A.D., the Ninth Legion Hispana marched into the mists of Roman-occupied Britain and disappeared forever.

    Rome erased their name and number from the legionary rolls, and so far no British farmer has turned up a buried graveyard with his plow, to show where they lie.
    Perhaps they turned their backs on everything that was of their own world and melted into the native tribes. Perhaps they were ambushed and cut down. All we know for certain is that they vanished as surely as if the ground had opened to swallow them, taking with them their Eagle, the life and honor of the Legion, and leaving behind only a few men who happened to be detached from the HiIspana when it marched out that day.

    This novel is history as it may have happened, on the edges of that country where history turns into myth.

  11. Lindsay Townsend
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 12:28:31

    Dear Laura,

    You’ll find it’s ‘decurion’ in the book.

    Lindsay

  12. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 12:34:49

    Thanks, Lindsay. I only knew the military meaning and if it hadn’t been for the typo, I wouldn’t have gone and looked up the word and discovered it had a second meaning, so I’m glad Jayne made the typo, but I’m also glad you’ve cleared up the confusion.

  13. Savanna Kougar
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 12:59:23

    Personally, I found Flavia to be a wonderful chance to time travel via the written page. It was like living in that time, which I adore in a book or a movie. I lost myself in the adventure of being in the Roman/British culture, not to mention sighing over the sweet love story. I say, brilliantly done.

  14. Jayne
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 18:25:07

    Okay, I fixed that incorrectly capitalized word. Hopefully it’s clearer now. Thanks for the correction.

  15. Francesca Prescott
    Jan 01, 2009 @ 06:11:38

    The first Lindsay Townsend book I read was her historical romantic suspense, “A Secret Treasure”, set on the Greek island of Rhodes during the Italian occupation in the late 1930s. As in “Flavia’s Secret”, it is Lindsay’s capacity to include the historical detail without slowing down the story that fascinates me. There is a gentle, innocent charm to her writing that I really enjoy; something classic and…ladylike!

  16. jillyfae
    Jan 01, 2009 @ 16:29:18

    I think it sounds wonderfully fascinating… but the house rule is that I’m not allowed to buy books until after I’ve read them and determined they’re worth it, (or else there’d be no money for food or room for beds), and my library doesn’t have it, or anything else by Townsend. *grumbles off to try and track down a swap or ILL of it*

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