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Terra Incognita
By Ruth Downie

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Terra Incognita

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Terra Incognita
A Novel of the Roman Empire
By Ruth Downie
Thorndike Press, Large Print Edition (2008)
ISBN 10: 1-4104-0747-0
ISBN 13: 978-1-4104-0747-4
Genre: Historical Fiction

Reviewed by Angela Evans - July 11, 2008

Terra Incognita is the second book in Ruth Downie's series about Gaius Petreius Ruso, a Medicus (doctor) in the Roman Legion. Steeped in the history of Ancient Rome and that of Roman Britannia, Terra Incognita is a well fleshed-out historical novel. Picking up where she left off in Medicus, Downie continues to examine Ruso's complicated life, one that is further complicated by his occasional slave Tilla who has very definite ideas about her relationship with Ruso. Being his slave is not exactly something she accepts - except when it is in her best interest to accept such a role.

This novel opens in 118, and we find that Ruso is tired of working garrison town of Deva (Chester). Seeking a quiet refuge, he has volunteered for duty with the 10th Batavians, who are on their way to an isolated posting in the northern borderland of Roman occupied Britain. Ruso hopes that being in a relatively 'quite' place will equate to him having a relaxing tour at his new posting. He is wrong.

Before even arriving at his new station, Ruso is called upon to investigate the beheading of Felix, a fellow soldier. What he discovers is that Felix had an awful lot of enemies, and if one of them was not the cause of Felix's death, then it could be one of the locals. In addition to trying to solve the mystery surrounding Felix's death, Ruso also finds that he has to contend with Tilla's often confounding actions, as well as dealing with a deranged doctor and wagon loads of bedbugs.

Their journey northward has brought Tilla back into the confines of her native homeland, and she has a score to settle. The settling of which is complicated by the fact that her people are contemplating rebellion against their Roman overlords. The simmering rebellion also impacts Ruso investigations - and his attempts to get some peace and quiet.

Terra Incognita is a well-written historical novel that sticks to the historical facts, such as there are. Not much is really known about the tribes people that inhabited Britain during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (of Hadrian's Wall fame, although the wall has yet to be built when this story takes place). Nonetheless, Downie manages to create a believable scenario and a plausible history of the local tribesmen that inhabit the story. The facts about the Roman Army in Britannia, at the time, are much better documented and in that regard, Downie sticks to the historical facts.

Unlike Medicus, which was a mystery set against the backdrop of the Roman Army, Terra Incognita is more of a mystery set against the backdrop of Ruso and Tilla's relationship. I enjoyed both books immensely and I'm looking forward to the further adventures of the amateur detective, Gaius Petreius Ruso.

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