Saturday, December 27, 2014

Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis


One of the pleasures of the dollar spinner rack at Half-Priced books, is finding authors you've never read before. I know for some, that's a no-go as you're limited to the randomness of the rack and may be picking up books out of series.

Fortunately, for $1, I'm willing to give an author a chance to see if the novel catches my interest and if so, follow up from that point. I've been shopping at garage sales, used books sales, store closings, and other bits for so long, that if I didn't buy another book in years, I'd probably still have material to read or reread in some instances.

I initially bought Shadows in Bronze for my mom. While it may seem silly, she's a big fan of detective novels and especially of those in a historical context. After she finished it and before putting it back into the box for Half-Price, I decided to give it a go.

I'm glad I did. After reading the book, I immediately looked up Lindsey Davis and was surprised by the wide berth of material she's done. Her webpage is here. I was a little disappointed thought to see that so many of her books, in Kindle format at least, was over the $7.00 mark. I know that's nothing for some, and some would argue that the $1.99-$3.99 specials I'm so fond of are starvation wages, but when I can hit Half-Price again and again, well in one of these transactions, the author gets something. In the other, the author gets nothing.

Still, it's good to see the books in Kindle and other e-formats for those who prefer that medium to read in.

Shadows in Bronze is the second book in the Falco series. There are twenty novels with Falco, a low classed former soldier now turned investigator. The novel is 366 pages. The new version is 464 which is a good thing. My paperback is densely packed and while not difficult to read, does tend to feel crowded.

The novel is told in first person and Falco, the narrator, does a great job of providing the reader with descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of ancient Rome, while keeping the action flowing. Falco is one of my favorite types of heroes. Competent enough to get himself in trouble, but flawed enough having a hard time getting out of that trouble!

One of the things I enjoy about the novel, and indeed, about many mystery novels that don't take place in modern settings, is the lack of technology makes the main characters have to work harder. In working harder, one of the things the characters have to do is investigate.

These investigations act as windows to the setting. It allows the reader to see how things work in Ancient Rome without the author having to throw huge chunks of knowledge at the reader to digest.

Thankfully, Lindsey Davis is a skilled writer and I found myself quickly finishing the book.

It has a nice mix of intrigue, romance, and action. It isn't so grim and gritty that you look away in disgust, but nor is everything sunshine and flowers. Lindsey walks a nice balancing act of throwing oobstacles emotional, financial, and physical, into the character's way to make sure that when they do succeed, they earned it.

I'm looking forward to my trip to Half-Price today so see if I can find any more of the novels.

If you're looking for a historical mystery, Shadows in Bronze is a strong read and one of the better books I've read in 2014.

For those who are gamers and role players, I'm going to discuss some of the specifics of the book that I enjoyed and what you might be able to drag out of the book into your own games and settings.

NPC as obstacle. One of the problems with role playing games, is the dreaded motto, if it has stats we can kill it.

Make characters that the primary objective, isn't to make the NPCs villains who are out to threaten everything that the characters love and cherish, but political foes who are striving to enhance their own powers using the lay and laws of the land so that the characters have to come up with methods that showcase other aspects of the game.

Too often it's easy to forget in a role playing game that has vorpal weapons that there's a 'role playing' aspect to it. You can work on that part by making the NPCs memorable entities that may disagree with the players on crucial bits, but may otherwise agree with the players in almost everything else they do.

For example, in Shadows in Bronze, one of the most dangerous people Falco meets is Aufidius Crispus. The man is charismatic, wealthy, well liked, has his fingers in many pies, is willing to bet it all on the cast of a single die, and other bits that mesh well with Falco. But in this instance, Falco learns that Crispus isn't too concerned about women's rights, which sits poorly with Falco because his own beloved was attacked by an associated of Cripus, who not knowing this, shrugs off the attack as nothing special. That loses Falco right there.

NPC as Disadvantage: One of the things that the author does well, is puts Falco in family. Good lord am I tired of loners and orphan children who can't interact with society and have no family. Falco has brothers and sisters, nephews and cousins. It's great seeing him interact with them. However, those interactions take time. Those interactions come with responsibilities. Those interactions aren't always pleasant. It's refreshing to see someone have to help raise his dead brother's son with that son is whip smart and has his own ideas on how the world works. It's entertaining to see a grown man still have to deal with a mother who has her own iron in the belly.

NPC as complication. This one is a little different in that the NPC is skilled, powerful, well known, has their own circle of contacts and abilities. But the character has a history with them that's both pleasant and unpleasant at the same time. Ah, the dreaded love interest! In this instance, Helena Justina is "a high-born beauty" that is very competent and has her own family and agenda that aligns with Falco's, but Falco has such guilt for his low born status that it complicates things.

Remember that when designing your campaign and your dungeons, that when dealing with mysteries, the main source of information is going to be the other characters that are involved with it. Make sure those characters are memorable and can stand on their own if the player's aren't there.