Book Review: Ruth Downie’s Semper Fidelis

Posted February 7, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Ruth Downie’s Semper Fidelis

Semper Fidelis

It is part of the , series and is a in Hardcover edition on January 8, 2013 and has 327 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Fifth in the Gaius Petreius Ruso, a.k.a., Medicus, historical mystery series based in 122 A.D. York, England.

My Take

It was a bit of a shock to learn that Ruso was back with the army. Although, events in Caveat Emptor, 4, may well have made it seem like the safer choice, LOL. I’m not sure if it was Tilla’s boredom or the family that encouraged Ruso to go back!

Do read the character list at the start of the book. Downie has been clever, and it’s a fun read. Even more fun is how skeptical Tilla is about how this reading thing could be.

The bit about the medication and blaming it on Tilla was roughly done.

I did enjoy the setting, but for the most part, this is as confusing and frustrating to read as a contemporary police procedural with all sorts of hints dropped, but everyone refusing to actually say anything. The politics and obfuscation will drive you mad. The betrayals and “accidents’ will keep you wary and afraid between escapes and imprisonments.

I’m not sure if I didn’t enjoy this as much as the first four because I just hate cover-ups, or if it just seemed so dreary. Events were so exaggeratedly to the bad, that it came to be tedious. Downie has gotten locked into her pattern and can’t seem to rise above it.

The Story

When last we saw our hero, he was squirming in his family home in Caveat Emptor, having retired from the army and married Tilla.

It opens with Ruso and Tilla back in England and heading out on a tour of provincial outposts in an attempt to avoid the fanfare of the emperor’s visit. Hah! Guess Ruso didn’t read the book!

It’s that dang conscience of his — and his wife — that won’t let Ruso sit on the sidelines as corruption abounds. It will be quite a lowering experience for Ruso.

The Characters

Gaius Petreius Ruso is a doctor in the Twentieth Roman Legion based in England, and he’s married Tilla, a native Briton. Poor Ruso has no clue about politics or getting ahead. Nor is Tilla an asset — she’s not given up seeing the Romans as the enemy, although she does work as a midwife wherever they go. And she’s thinking about learning to be a doctor! Marcia is his whiny sister in Gaul. Valens is an old friend, here as the procurator’s doctor.

Tribune Publius Valerius Accius is in charge of the Twentieth and will be taking over from Geminus. Minna is Accius’ slave and officious housekeeper. Centurion Geminus, a relative of Accius’, is in charge at Eboracum (York) and about to retire. Bella is his brute of a dog. Centurion Dexter is Geminus’ second-in-command using the old “obeying orders” excuse. Pera was an unfortunate student of Ruso’s some time back; now he’s in charge at the fort with quite a bit to hide.

A number of Britons have joined the Legion with a few having regrets: Victor, who is bound and running, deserting his post, leaving his wife and child, Corinna and Lucios behind; Sulio; Dannicus; Austalis took extreme measures to get around the Roman prejudices; and, Tadius, yet another victim. Marcus, Austalis’ friend, is another who is considering an extreme measure.

Hadrian is the emperor and intends to build a wall in Britain. Metellus is back and accompanying the emperor. He is the outgoing governor’s security advisor and a major threat to Ruso and Tilla. The Empress Sabina is his unhappy wife accompanying him on his tour. And she’s bored, bored, bored. Tranquillus, the emperor’s secretary, won’t let her read the treatise, History of Famous Prostitutes, that he’s working on. Prefect Septicius Clarus is in charge of the Praetorian Guard, and “the only man authorized to carry a sword in the private company of the emperor”.

Virana is an immature, self-centered young girl eager to run off to the bright lights of the Romans. Any Roman. She has no tact, no brake on her mouth, and no compunctions. Her family — Barita is the troubled daughter, mourning Tadius — is both angry and resigned.

The Cover and Title

The cover is reds and golds with all the accoutrements of the military doctor laid out on a red cloth from the humongous “buckle” on his belt, the helmet, the sword, and his portable slate with stylus.

My interpretation of the title is that we can always count on Ruso and Tilla to be faithful to their characters, Semper Fidelis.