(cover image from Amazon.com)
Terra Incognita (2008, also published as Ruso and the Demented Doctor) by Ruth Downie is the sequel to Medicus, her first book about Roman doctor, and unintentional detective, Gaius Petreius Ruso and his slave/girlfriend, Tilla.
This time, Ruso and Tilla have traveled with the Legion to Britannia's northern border, where Tilla was born and her tribe still lives in varying degrees of accommodation to the Roman invaders. Rebellion is just under the surface, especially with the recent appearance of the Stag Man, apparently sent by the British gods.
Now, a soldier has been killed - decapitated - and Tilla's former boyfriend is accused of the crime, while the previous doctor at the fort, locked up as a madman, claims to have committed the murder, himself.
As usual, Ruso is just trying to get by - trying to do his job while keeping his superiors happy, and his girlfriend, too. But for Tilla, this is all tied up with her family's murder and her own enslavement and rape, not to mention her conflicted feelings about the Romans in general.
Like the first book, this one is a lot of fun. Ruso and Tilla are both appealing characters, plus there are plenty of others who just seem very... human. In an afterward, Downie admits that we don't know much about this time and this land. This is just fiction, and probably not particularly realistic fiction, at that.
But that's OK with me. I'm not a big fan of historical fiction, nor do I usually care much about the mystery in mysteries. All I want is an entertaining story with appealing characters, and this certainly fits the bill.
Terra Incognita is very similar to Medicus, so if you liked that book, you'll probably enjoy this one, too. You don't necessarily have to read these in order, but since the relationship between Ruso and Tilla progresses, that wouldn't be a bad idea.
Both are sympathetic characters, but they're very different people from very different backgrounds. So there's plenty of misunderstanding between them, with makes their romance (for it is a romance) rather rocky,... and humorous. The mystery just provides the background to that.
This sort of thing always appeals to me, but not to everyone, I know. Terra Incognita is just light-weight entertainment, but if that's what you want, you could certainly do worse. I'll be continuing with the series, myself.
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