Sunday, October 19, 2014

Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie

Terra Incognita: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie --- 384 pages

It is spring in the year 118, and medicus (doctor) Gaius Petreius Ruso has been stationed in Deva, in the Roman province of Britannia, for eight eventful months. Ruso would like to escape the unwelcome notoriety created by his reluctant investigation into the murders of local prostitutes,  He also wants to please his volatile slave, Tilla, by indulging her wish to visit her tribe, the Corionotatae, near the Roman outpost of Coria (present day Corbridge, Northumberland). So Ruso volunteers to join a contingent of the Twentieth Legion seconded to reinforce Rome's tenuous control over the restive frontier at Hadrian's Wall. 

But Ruso discovers Coria is no refuge for a man seeking a quiet life and anonymity.  The northern tribes still remember the free days before the Romans occupied their lands. Although some have adapted to Roman ways, many more are biding their time to throw off the Roman yoke.

Left to her own devices, Tilla has private scores of her own to settle: with the hated Votadini chieftain who murdered her family and carried her off into slavery; with the uncle who has Romanized and prospered.Worse still, by Ruso's reckoning, Tilla is championing the innocence of a former sweetheart who stands accused of murdering a Roman soldier. 

Meanwhile Ruso is pressed into deputizing for the  resident medicus, Thessalus, said to be suffering strange delusions.  Ruso is horrified to learn that Thessalus's chief delusion is that he murdered the soldier.  Then he learns the army suspects Tilla and her old flame are consorting with the mysterious Stag Man, a native leader fomenting rebellion. Worse, in order to exculpate Tilla, it appears Ruso will also have to prove his rival innocent—and the army wrong—by discovering the real murderer. 

By the time Ruso manages to sort it all out (with Tilla's determined assistance), both of them are glad to leave Coria behind --- but have they left their chance for happiness together behind as well? Once again Downie combines mystery, history, romance and comedy with a deft hand.

Terra Incognita is the second volume in Downie's Medicus series of historical mysteries set in Roman Britain during the declining years of the Roman Empire. 

Click HERE to read  Downie's blog post, "The Real Rianorix," about one of the main characters in Terra Incognita.

Click HERE to find more information about Corbridge and the remnants of the ancient Roman fort of Coria.

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