Master and God by Lindsey Davis

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Master and God by Lindsey Davis

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Vespasian's second son Domitian takes up the reins of power, but his paranoia soon descends into vicious and bloodthirsty madness. Against this background, a soldier and a hairdresser meet, squabble, become friends and then lovers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781444707328

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Imagine first century Rome as seen through the eyes of a wry Brummie with a fine sense of humour and a real talent for introducing you to characters so real you could easily see yourself having a drink with them after a hard week at the office. That is Lindsey Davis' gift, and while this book is a departure from her usual Falco novels, the trademark charm, piercing intelligence and ready wit are as abundant as ever.

The era is the rule of Domitian, third and last of the Flavian dynasty, and a clever mix of fact and fiction shows us his gradual move from a neglected and jealous boy into an insane and megalomanic leader. His temperament, and the frightening experiences he endured just before his father Vespasian seized power, led him to mistrust everyone and this drove him to torture, terrify and murder hundreds of the people who surrounded him. Little wonder, then, that his life ended, like that of so many of his subjects, in a bloodbath: a group of conspirators decided the stability of Rome was more important than the life of an emperor and had him assassinated. The account of his life is a balanced one, however, taking pains to also show his culture, his extensive building programme of beautiful temples and monuments, and the strategic military achievements history has long since forgotten or ignored.

What is so convincing about this account is that it is in large part shown as the backdrop to the lives of two ordinary people who live and work on the peripheries of palace politics. Gaius Vinius Clodianus is a soldier, reluctantly promoted to the Praetorian Guard, who has a talent for getting married to unsuitable women (or being married to them without his knowledge by his older brothers) and who manages to still be handsome—and knows it, according to Lucilla—despite losing an eye in battle. Flavia Lucilla is a freedwoman who dresses the hair of the imperial ladies, and in the tradition of hairdressers then and now, hears and keeps their most intimate secrets. By chance the two become joint lodgers of a suite of rooms and learn, after a few false starts and misunderstandings, to enjoy each other's company and then fall deeply in love. Haters of mush need not fear: their encounters are recounted with all the dry wit and affectionate warmth we have come to associate with the more famous Falco and Helena.

An astonishing amount of research must have gone into this book. Well-known scenes of the life of Domitian are included, including the fact that he killed flies with his pen nib (though probably never recounted before from the point of view of the fly) but everywhere we see details of dress (including a hatred for socks with sandals which remains to this day), behaviour, palace etiquette and food. Vinius loves his grub and, good soldier that he is, knows how to cook, so lucky Lucilla finds herself wooed with some lovingly described pastries dripping with honey and pistachios which had this reviewer's stomach rumbling.

The story is dramatic and enthralling, all the more so for being full of historical fact. The characters are intriguing and three-dimensional, and the whole is told with a humour and insight which means the reader will find the book impossible to put down. An excellent read!

Any book by Lindsey Davis is worth reading. Bookbag recommends Alexandria, the one where Falco goes to the Great Library and where, needless to say, his attention will be diverted from the scrolls by the usual murder and mayhem.

Buy Master and God by Lindsey Davis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Master and God by Lindsey Davis at

Buy Master and God by Lindsey Davis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Master and God by Lindsey Davis at


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