Two thumbs up for Master and God by Lindsey Davis. Historical fiction.
The Emperor Domitian comes to power; then slowly falls into paranoia. Watching his rise and fall (and each other) are Imperial hairdresser, the freedwoman Flavia Lucilla, and soldier Gaius Vinius Clodianus. Davis’s other historical novel, The Course of Honour, is one of my favorite books, so I figured I would, by comparison, be disappointed by this one. I was not. Reading it feels like visiting the real Roman empire: which is to say, it’s bonkers, crude, sad, laugh-out-loud funny, and requires every content warning you could imagine. If you are a particularly sensitive reader you had better skip this. On the other hand, it’s a work of quirky and passionate genius that brought me immense joy. Do you like Rome? Do you mind a bit of weird? (There’s a chapter from the point of view of a fly, for example.) Then read it.
The admissions procedure had been established that the newcomer met the requirement of being born in Italy, and that he had undergone basic training, though not to the Guards’ immaculate standards. Being able to run, ride, read, swim, make bricks, hurl javelins, build roads, cook soup, stab and stamp, put up a fort from a pre-formed kit, hold your beer, screw a peasant girl behind her parents’ backs then march for hours in full tackle were nowhere near enough. The Praetorian ideal was a special course on swaggering, bragging, breastplate buffing and trampling on the public’s toes.
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