Reviewed by David Maclaine
Master and God offers a languid stroll through the streets of Flavian Rome. Although clearly based on a great deal of thorough research, particularly on Roman architecture, the novel unfortunately fails to convey the historical background in an engaging way that might kindle readers' interest in the period. I was able to forge through to the end, but with a growing sense of frustration and puzzlement.
Davis is an experienced writer with a number of novels to her name, including the popular Falco mystery series, so she must be aware of the advice every tyro receives to “Show, don’t tell!” Master and God ignores this dictum for page after page after page, instead lecturing readers with summarized conclusions, such as: "In giving back the stolen site for public use Vespasian had imposed benign rulership in place of maniacal despotism." The novel further ignores the sound advice to let readers know early on what the story will be about. It should not take 130 pages for them to decide they are reading a love story of sorts between a hairdresser and a praetorian rather than a Fodor’s Guide to Flavian Rome. Some dramatic events occur - a big fire, a diagnosis of Emperor Domitian as "paranoid" by a Greek doctor, an assassination - but the focus is fitful and odd, giving five pages to the viewpoint of a fly in Domitian’s quarters, two pages more than the crucial battle that lands one of the lovers in a harsh captivity. The reader's illusion of being transported into the time of the novel is repeatedly broken by descriptions of what “would” happen in the future. Expressions such as “odd bods,” “canoodling,” “kerfuffle,” “collywoddles,” “hoiked” and “smackeroo bonanza” jerk readers into the cheap, chatty world of the modern gossip pages, which, sadly, offer far more excitement than this novel. (2012, 464 pages)More about Master and God at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository