“This is the original Game of Thrones,” or so says the man who would know, George R.R. Martin, and The Iron King certainly has more than its share of“This is the original Game of Thrones,” or so says the man who would know, George R.R. Martin, and The Iron King certainly has more than its share of murder, adultery, conspiracy, star-crossed lovers and bloody-minded cruelty. The only thing it doesn’t have is dragons (unless you count the ones on heraldic devices). It’s an account of the last days of the Capetian dynasty of France, when the feudal society of the Middle Ages was giving way to the modern state, and England and France became locked in the deadly embrace of the Hundred Years’ War.
The Iron King opens a generation before the war, in 1314, when Philip the Fair successfully concludes his persecution and destruction of the Knights Templar, one of the most powerful organizations in Europe. On his pyre, its last Grandmaster, Jacques de Molay, curses the Capetians unto the 13th generation. (And, within a year, all three architects of the Templars’ fall would be dead. Coincidence? Well…yes. The curse is the stuff of urban legend; and does it really make sense that a man brutally tortured for seven years and being burned alive would have the presence of mind to enunciate a curse against his tormentors? But it does make for a good story.) Between the death of de Molay and Philip, the royal family is torn apart by adultery. The wives of the king’s three sons are implicated in affairs. Two are condemned to convents, and the third is put under house arrest (she hadn’t had a lover but she helped the others conceal the trysts), and the hapless lovers are tortured and brutally executed. Meanwhile, the king’s daughter, wife of Edward II of England, is taking advantage of the situation to put herself and her young son (future Edward III and instigator of the Hundred Years’ War) in a position to claim the crown of France.
I would love to recommend the book wholeheartedly but I cannot. The translation is not very good. It reads like a school exercise. Something I’d expect from a student in a (admittedly advanced) French class. It competently translates the French, I’m sure, but that’s all it does – there’s no life in it. Times like this I wish my grad-school French was up to reading the original.
Nevertheless, I’m interested enough in the story – and the translation does on occasion rise to the level of excellence the story deserves – that I’ll persevere through the 2nd book – The Strangled Queen – at the very least.
* As an aside: One of my favorite books about the period (the 14th century) and one I’d eagerly recommend is Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. If a bit dated, it brings the period to life by following the life and career of one of France’s premier – if now obscure – nobles, Enguerrand de Coucy, who dies a prisoner of the Turks in 1396 (if I recall correctly)....more
Another enjoyable entry in the author's Ruso series.
Ruso is back with the XX Legion in Britain and has decided to make an inspection tour of the legioAnother enjoyable entry in the author's Ruso series.
Ruso is back with the XX Legion in Britain and has decided to make an inspection tour of the legion's medical facilities so as to avoid crossing paths with the Emperor's retinue. In the wake of the recent troubles, Hadrian has come to the island to supervise the building of the Wall and settle the VI Legion there as reinforcements. While in Eboracum (York), he stumbles across several mysterious deaths and injuries amongst the British recruits and soon finds himself and Tilla embroiled in a messy situation involving a bigoted, sadistic centurion; his nephew, the ambitious tribune; and the Imperial household (because, inevitably, Ruso does cross paths with the Emperor).
As with the first four novels in the series, Semper Fidelis is a quick enjoyable read with just enough gravitas to make it memorable.
The only caveat is the new character of Virana, whose dimwittedness is almost too dim to be believable. Hopefully, she won't descend too far into slapstick in future books (as she's become a member of the Ruso household)....more
The situation in Rome becoming uncomfortable, Falco finds it expedient to take an assignment (two, in fact, one from the Emperor and another from ThalThe situation in Rome becoming uncomfortable, Falco finds it expedient to take an assignment (two, in fact, one from the Emperor and another from Thalia, the statuesque snake-dancer from The Silver Pigs) that takes him and Helena Justina to the Empire's eastern frontier.
Last Act in Palmyra read a bit more grimly than the previous few novels, going back to the atmosphere of the first book, but I still enjoyed it and continue to recommend the series....more
Lindsey Davis must have met my friend Mike's family. His parents are first-generation Sicilian immigrants and could have provided the source materialLindsey Davis must have met my friend Mike's family. His parents are first-generation Sicilian immigrants and could have provided the source material for Falco and his.
Poseidon's Gold finds Falco discovering uncomfortable facts about his dead brother Festus, the darling of the family and decorated hero of the Judaean War, and he becomes the prime suspect in the murder of one of his brother's former associates.
As usual, though, despite a certain pig-headed stubbornness Falco manages to work things out (even saving Festus' reputation - such as it was - in the process)....more
Master and God chronicles the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96)* through the lives of Gaius Vinius Clodianus, who rises through the ranks to become cornicuMaster and God chronicles the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96)* through the lives of Gaius Vinius Clodianus, who rises through the ranks to become cornicularius (chief-of-staff) of the Praetorian Guard (view spoiler)[and who, in Davis' telling, provides the killing thrust when the emperor is assassinated (hide spoiler)], and Flavia Lucilla, an Imperial freedwoman and Gaius' lover.
As with her other non-Falco novel, The Course of Honor, the interest for this reader is not so much in the historical details (of which Davis is a master)** but the relationship of the main characters. Like Vespasian and Caenis in the former book, Gaius and Lucilla are forced to spend years apart with other people and sometimes under the most depressing misapprehensions of the other's motives. But in the process, they become "real" people I care about.
I've found that Davis' characters tend to be worldly wise and cynical romantics at heart, which is why they appeal to me and why I've come to enjoy her writing so much.
* Domitian, for me, is one of those tragic emperors - the ones who might have been good but had a fatal flaw that mooted any positives they achieved. In Domitian's case it was his paranoia and megalomania (the title of the novel refers to the emperor's preferred mode of address). By most accounts he kept the Roman government reasonably honest and appointed competent officials but his descent into madness finally alienated even his closest supporters and he had to be eliminated for everyone's safety.
** Davis remarks in her "Author's Note" that Suetonius is the only author to provide the cornicularius' name and from there she constructed Gaius Vinius.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The second book in Davis's series about Marcus Didius Falco, an informer in the Rome of the Flavian emperors, picks up immediately after the events ofThe second book in Davis's series about Marcus Didius Falco, an informer in the Rome of the Flavian emperors, picks up immediately after the events of the first novel, The Silver Pigs. Falco is helping to track down the remnants of the conspiracy he uncovered and confounded and finds himself tracked by and tracking Barnabas - the freedman of Atius Pertinax, now deceased conspirator and ex-husband of Helena, Falco's socially unobtainable lover.
There are a few plot twists - nothing is quite what it seems in the cut-throat world of Roman politics and society - but nothing too taxing for the brain.
The charm for me in Davis's stories are her characters and her writing style. As I mentioned in my Silver Pigs review, I'm strongly reminded of "The Rockford Files" when reading: A sardonic wit with just enough seriousness to make the reader care.
Lindsey Davis likes Vespasian. She likes him a great deal as even a cursory reading of her M Didius Falco series proves.
I like Vespasian. Among Rome’sLindsey Davis likes Vespasian. She likes him a great deal as even a cursory reading of her M Didius Falco series proves.
I like Vespasian. Among Rome’s many rulers, he ranks up there – in my opinion – with Augustus, Aurelian and Septimius Severus. And if I had the opportunity to have dinner with any emperor, he’d be the one I’d like to sit down with (or recline in the case of a Roman meal).
But Course of Honor* is not Vespasian’s story. It’s the story of the woman he loved – the freedwoman Antonia Caenis. From what little we know of her, she appears to have enjoyed an unprecedented relationship with Vespasian. One extraordinary enough to warrant at least passing mention in the histories that have come down to us. One which, given our lack of sources, is ripe for exploration.
Fortunately, Davis is up to the job as she recounts Caenis’ life from her first meeting with Vespasian to their final reunion when he became emperor. Davis focuses on the personal relationship between Caenis and Vespasian and does a good job of making both of them real people, Caenis particularly. The tone of the writing is more serious than the author’s Falco books but the emphasis on developing interesting characters over plot remains, which – in this case – is a good thing.
And Davis’ skill at putting you in ancient Rome remains as well.
Overall, Course of Honor gets a recommendation from me, especially if you want to read about a romance that doesn’t involve heaving bosoms, ripped bodices and iron-thewed men.
After all, this is our protagonist’s love interest:
* I have the American edition, so we lost the “u”....more