Edition: Century, 1997
Review number: 67
The Course of Honour is, like most of Davis' novels, set in the Rome of the first century AD. Unlike these novels, its main character is historical, not the private detective Falco. Caenis was a slave to Antonia, who was related to most of the early emperors of Rome. She received her freedom, and became the mistress of an obscure young senator (a Sabine rather than a true Roman) named Vespasian.
Though the two of them find true love together, Caenis forces a parting for the sake of Vespasian's career. The book details the struggles to survive for both of them under the emperors from Tiberius to Nero, of varying degrees of insanity.
Then comes the year of the four emperors, AD 69, and the first major civil war of the Empire, followed by the victory of Vespasian and his enthronement as emperor.
As usual, Davis writes well and with a good sense of period; the subject matter of this novel (the comparative richness of the characters in particular) means that it is a good deal less nasty than the Falco series. It is also more constrained by the "real history" involved, which is caused both by having real historical people as major characters and by covering a much larger sweep of history (one which is also covered in some detail by several more or less contemporary historians). These restrictions don't seem to handicap Davis; this book confirms to me that she is a writer of some stature, not just someone who can write well in a limited field.