Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Semper Fidelis - Ruth Downie

    2013; 348 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book #5 (out of 6) of the Medicus series.  Genre : Historical Fiction; Mystery.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Something is amiss in the Twentieth Legion, and it’s not just that they’re stationed in the backwater town of Eboracum in Britannia.  Or that they’re stuck with the unenviable job of recruiting and training the local Britons to be loyal Roman legionaries.

    No, it’s the fact that people are saying that the Twentieth Legion is cursed.  And there’s some merit to the claim.  Two recruits are dead, another’s in critical condition due to a training accident, and still another’s gone missing.  Oh yeah, there’s also a recruit up on the roof, threatening to jump to his death.

    But there’s no such thing as a curse, is there?  That’s what Ruso wants to find out.

What’s To Like...
    Semper Fidelis takes place in 2nd-century Roman-ruled Britain, during the reign of Hadrian.  The book is fast-paced, with Action, Romance, Humor, and a couple of Mysteries all worked into a nice piece of Historical Fiction.  Overall, this is a pleasant, light read, but some serious topics are touched upon; among them slavery, the role of women, torture, and homosexuality.

    I thought the character development was top-notch.  Ruso and his wife Tilla combine to make an effective, if somewhat reluctant (at least on Ruso’s part) sleuthing team that reminds me of Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt.  The secondary characters stand out as well, even the one-and-dones.  I especially liked the non-stereotypical treatment of the Emperor Hadrian and Empress Sabina.  It is refreshing to meet Roman rulers who aren’t typecast as despots.  All the characters have both noble traits and flaws.  Ruso and Tilla both have a tendency to be whistle-blowers, and suffer the usual punishments for their high-principled but ill-advised disclosures.

    Semper Fidelis is Book 5 in the series.  I read the first book, Medicus, a couple months ago (reviewed here), but skipped the three intervening books.  I’m sure the usual caveat applies – you’ll get more out of the series if you read the books in order – but SemperFi does just fine as a standalone novel.  Tilla and Ruso got married somewhere along the way, and Tilla is investigating a johnny-come-lately deity called Christos.  ANAICT that’s about it for important events that I missed.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Fug (n.) : A warm, stuffy, or smoky atmosphere in a confined space.

    “Sir, I apologize for that excuse about the man falling off the stretcher.”
    “It wasn’t very convincing.”
    “I’m usually much better at lying, sir.”
    “Perhaps you’d like to tell me the truth now?”
    “I’d rather try for a more convincing lie, sir.”  (loc. 1576)

    “Shall we have her fetched?”
    Tranquillus looked appalled.  A midwife, madam?”
    Clarus said, “A housecleaner?”
    Sabina smiled.  “And an officer’s wife.  I think I should like to meet her.”
    “She’ll have to be checked first,” insisted Clarus.  “I’ll need a name.”
    Sabina sighed.  “Clarus, you have a very large sword.  We are surrounded by the servants and you can call your guards.  If none of those can deal with her, Tranquillus will stab her with his stylus.  I think I shall be safe from one woman, don’t you?”  (loc. 2626)

Kindle Details...
    Semper Fidelis sells for $9.39 at Amazon, as do two others in the series.  The just-issued Book 6, Tabula Rasa, goes for $9.99,  and the remaining two sell for $7.39 and $7.99.

“I hear one of our officers has married you.”  “I have married him also, mistress.”  (loc. 2655)
    Frankly, as a Mystery novel Semper Fidelis is a bit meh.  The main murder doesn’t occur until Chapter 48 (Kindle 56%), so I spent the first half of the book wondering where the main storyline was going.  The solution of the Murder-Mystery seemed arbitrary and hazy, and trying to solve it alongside Tilla/Ruso was a frustrating exercise.

    The Historical Fiction portion was better, although an anachronistic candle still shows up (sorry, there weren't any in the Roman Empire), and Valens still uses ‘modern’ terms like “bollocks” and “old chap”.

    But this is a case where the sum of the book is greater than its parts, probably because Ruth Downie infuses such a vibrant literary color into the world of ancient Britain.  Semper Fidelis in particular, and the Medicus series as a whole, are both a fun and enlightening read. 

    8 Stars.

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