Saturday, April 09, 2011

Book Review: Medicus by Ruth Downie

One subject that never fails to get my heart pumping is history. I've discovered an enjoyment for historical fiction as well. Sometimes, the holes in history are filled in fairly well by a writer's imagination. In the 8th grade, I read Johnny Tremaine. As I've grown and studied the period surrounding our American Revolution, I found it to be fairly accurate, but the fictional element added an interesting spice to my understanding of the period.

I found a similar experience with Medicus. One historical period with which I'm particularly fascinated is the Roman Empire. Yet some parts of the history of the empire were recorded better than others. The British Isles were one area for which little written history remains.

I came across Medicus as a Kindle freebie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The main character, Gaius Petrius Ruso, is a Roman Army doctor in Britain during the period when Trajan died and Hadrian took over as emperor (approximately 117-118 AD or CE depending on your perspective). The book begins with a girl turning up dead and Ruso is forced to deal with it as the only doctor not sick or away from the hospital. This girl's death leads him unwittingly into buying an injured slave girl and investigating a string of murders of bar prostitutes.

Complicating the plot, Ruso is also juggling the aftermath of his father's death among an over extension of credit. Though Ruso is divorced, his brother maintains the family farm in southern Gaul (France), and his responsibility is to send whatever money he can from his Army salary to support his family and somehow repay his father's massive system of debt. Ruso's solution is his own intricate system of loans that threaten to unravel at any moment, especially when the tyrannical hospital administrator gets involved.

I enjoyed the book and the characters. The narration is predominately told in the third person surrounding Ruso, the main character, although occasionally we're given a glimpse into the mind of Trilla, the slave girl. The switch didn't seem very consistent though. 

Other reviewers on Amazon said the other characters were two-dimensional. I didn't think so. Since the story was mostly told from the perspective of the main character, obviously the other characters didn't appear as filled out. At least, it's obvious to me. I'm not a trained book reviewer, but I am a trained reader. I know what I like. I also wonder how "two-dimensional" people in my life would appear if the only way you knew them was through my journal. No, you can't read it.

My biggest complaint about Medicus is I'll have to buy the rest of the series now that I'm invested in the main character. There are at least 3 more books following this one, and none have shown up as Kindle freebies yet. If you love the triumvirate of history, fiction, and the Roman Empire, you should enjoy Medicus.

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