Friday, January 4, 2013

Britannia and Ancient Rome Collide..Mysteries by Ruth Downie

I happen to enjoy historical novels based on ancient history. I have always been fascinated by ancient societies and how they operated. Understanding the gifts that the ancients left us is a good way to better understand ourselves. Here we are not just understanding the beginnings of democracy and familial ties, but even the concept of military prowess and how the lessons of battle figure into our day to day world. The society in which we live was started by the ancients, and it is an interesting look back to see how many things have never changed.

Yes, I read straight forward history texts too, of course. Have  a library full as a matter of fact. But the historical novel, when done well, is so much more fun. My latest reading find is a murder mystery series set in ancient Britannia written by Ruth Downie.

Downie is a UK based author who explores the relationship between the ancient Roman occupiers of Britannia and the island's native inhabitants. We become privy to Roman attitudes and transgressions. The mindset of ancient Britains toward their occupying masters. We learn how the Romans ruled and how they used the native peoples to Rome's benefit. We also learn about the political machinations back in Rome proper and how it effected the outlying areas. We learn about Gaul (modern day France) and her tribes, their relationship to Britannia and Rome. We are educated into Roman medicine and the duty of a legionnaire. We hear scuttlebutt about a failed Jewish revolt and the slaughter of the inhabitants.  Downie hits every note and does it with interesting aplomb.

Meanwhile, as you are learning a bit of history along the way the main characters just happen to solve a number of murders. There are twists and turns which confound like any good mystery. There are good guys and bad and the ones you just can't figure out. There are the persons you feel sorry for and the ones you wish would get their just desserts yet never do.

You find yourself enthralled to the Medicus, the main character, with his failed marriage and family obligations. His slave/housekeeper Tilla, a native Britain with a very scared past. You meet the Medicus' friend another doctor, Valens, and the Roman legions they both care for. You meet Tilla's tribal family and learn about the infighting among the Britains themselves. You eventually even catch up with Boudica and the legacy of the Iceni.

As with all good historical novels these stories propel you back into ancient days and make you feel as if you are living at those times. You can identify with the wants and needs of the characters. You see in these protagonists so much of ourselves. The trick is not to just relay the facts as they were, but to make you understand the humanity of those that came before us and how we are truly not that much different in so many ways. This is the hallmark of a good historical writer and Downie does not disappoint.

While you can always jump into a series at any point (always the reader's choice), for these books I recommend you start from the beginning and move forward. Begin with Downie's first book in the series MedicusHere is her page at Amazon. Here is the list of her books from her webpage. Here is her page at goodreads.

All her books are available in eReader form too. I recevied my Kindle Paperwhite two weeks ago and have read three books so far. I love it. I highly recommend it.

Downie's next book in the series prints next Tuesday. Can't wait.

Qi en Pace,


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