Master and God by Lindsey Davis

‘It was a quiet afternoon on the Via Flaminia.’

This standalone novel is set in Ancient Rome, roughly covering the period of the Emperor Domitian (from 80-96 AD). It’s not, like the Falco series, a mystery. It’s a story about two people whose lives meet, cross, and then meet again.

In 80 AD, Gaius Vinius Clodianus is an investigator with the vigils, Rome’s police force and firefighting service. Flavia Lucilla, a young freedwoman apprenticed to her hairdresser mother, comes to the office to report a robbery. It seems like an unremarkable summer afternoon, but by the end of the day Rome is burning. The Emperor Titus is in Naples, dealing with the aftermath of the eruption of Vesuvius. Vinius and his colleagues fight the fire over a period of days, and when it is over he comes to the attention of Titus’s younger brother: Domitian.

Consequently, Vinius is promoted to the ranks of the Praetorian Guard. He still remembers Lucilla, and wonders what happened to her. Lucilla is busy establishing her career as a hairdresser to the imperial women.

Years later, quite by coincidence, Vinius and Lucilla end up sharing an overpriced apartment. They negotiate boundaries: some space is shared and some is not. Vinius, a man who seems cursed not to find happiness in his serial marriages, finds Lucilla a sympathetic listener. In Vinius, Lucilla, a single woman, finds a protector. Could their relationship develop further?

In the meantime, Domitian has succeeded Titus as emperor. He’s dangerous: impulsive, paranoid and unpredictable. Both Vinius and Lucilla can see this in their respective roles in the imperial court. What will the future hold? For Rome, and for Vinius and Lucilla.
I really enjoyed this novel. My knowledge of this particular period of Roman history is sketchy, and I kept searching for information to round out my knowledge. But the aspect I enjoyed most was Ms Davis’s development of the two main characters in keeping with their historical setting.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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