Lindsey Davis - The Course of Honor

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Course of Honor, certainly. And a path to sleepiness!

Jul 12, 2001
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The author knows her subject.

Cons:Flat, boring narrative.

The Bottom Line: This book takes a historical figure, and creates a novel. Unfortunately, it's not enough to make the reader stay with her and the ending is anticlimax, and rather dull.


Lindsay Davis is best known for her historical mysteries set in Ancient Rome of the Flavian Emperors. They chronicle the adventures of one Marcus Didius Falco, a spy in the employ of Vespasian and his son, Titus.

But in this one, Davies turned to the life of a rather remarkable woman, one Caenis, who had an enduring relationship with Vespasian. Born a slave, she was raised in the household of Antonia, daughter of Mark Anthony, and the mother of the emperor Claudius, and the grandmother of mad Caligula. Early on in the book, she meets Vespasian, and from the start you know this is no ordinary relationship.

Through Caenis' eyes, we see the reigns of the Julian-Claudian emperors, and the terrifying rule of Caligula and Nero, and the dizzying Year of Four Emperors.

And here we come to the problem with the novel. Oh, Davis' research is thorough and interesting, but the characters are a touch too flat to really be enjoyed. All the way through to the eventual happy-ever-after conculsion, the story had the predictable elements of a fairy tell. We get the goodly, savior-like Antonia who rescues Caenis from a life of drugery and prostitution. Evil arises in the corrupt rulers of Rome. There's the white knight factor in the figure of Vespasian, and his friends. We even get a soothsayer promising the riches and glories of Caenis' later life.

Usually Davis can craft a twisting, turning mystery that is easy to follow, and fun to read. But this one was tedious. Try as I might, I simply could not get myself to like Caenis very much; she's not romantic in any fashion and her manner towards Vespasian was cool to the point of indifference. That's fine in a mystery, but not that good if you're trying to tell a love story. Which is where this novel falters. I wasn't sure if the author was trying to write a historical chronicle, a story of rags to riches, or a heart-thumping romance. And the pity is that it fails on most fronts. There's no real mystery here, nothing that shows Vespasian drive for power in the wealthiest and far-flung empire the world has ever seen. Worst of all, most of the novel is told rather than shown to you, which left this reader feeling like she was watching a very poor historical drama on tv, with a narrator droning on in the background.

So, if you are fan of ancient Rome, or of Davis' Falco series, you might enjoy this one. If, however, you are looking for a thrilling romance or mystery, I would suggest that you pass on this one and pick up one of Davis' other works to read.


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