Book Review: Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie (4/5)

18 May

It was years ago that I read the first book in this series, Medicus. I think it was in high school and I grabbed the book off a shelf at Borders because of a gift card I had. Years later, a friend of mine saw I’d marked it as ‘books I own’ on my Goodreads shelf and asked to borrow it. She loved the title and went on to finish the series! She gave me the second book, Terra Incognita as a birthday present and it’s sat on my shelf until now. I decided to listen to this book so I could enjoy it sooner. The sequel, Persona Non Grata, is also on my shelf and may be another audiobook.

Cover image via Goodreads

Terra Incognita (Medicus Investigation #2) by Ruth Downie

Summary from Goodreads:

It is spring in the year 118, and Gaius Petreius Ruso has been stationed in the Roman-occupied province of Britannia for nearly a year. After his long and reluctant investigation of the murders of a handful of local prostitutes, Ruso needs to get away. With that in mind, he has volunteered for a posting with the army in Britannia’s deepest recesses- a calmer place for a tired man.

But the edge of the Roman Empire is a volatile place; the independent tribes of the North dwell near its borders. These hinterlands are the homeland of Ruso’s slave, Tilla, who has scores of her own to settle there: Her tribespeople are fomenting a rebellion against Roman control, and her former lover is implicated in the grisly murder of a soldier. Ruso, filling in for the demented local doctor, is appalled to find that Tilla is still spending time with the prime suspect. Worse, he is honor-bound to try to prove the man innocent-and the army wrong- by finding another culprit. Soon both Ruso’s and Tilla’s lives are in jeopardy, as is the future of their burgeoning romance.

I kept thinking that I would look up a summary of Medicus before I read this to make sure I remembered what happened but I never did. I remembered the important parts, that Tilla was a slave Ruso bought and she’s his housekeeper. That was as much as I needed to remember. The story was written so that the important parts from the previous book were introduced in this one so I didn’t have to feel stupid. It’s kind of like how Rowling will re-explain Hogwarts in the second and third Potter books, you know, just in case you forgot. The book was as sarcastic and fun to read as I remembered so I had a lot of fun listening to it. The mystery also wasn’t so buried in a single detail that I couldn’t solve it which I enjoyed as well. I followed Ruso’s suspicions and thought, “Yeah, it’s totally him!” when he had the wrong guy in mind and doubted Tilla when Ruso doubted her. Downie sucked me in.

Part of the fun of Ruso is that he’s smarter than a man in 118 should be and as a modern reader, you can sympathize with him. He doesn’t believe in praying to the Gods and he doubts the Roman system he’s sucked into more than a doctor of his time likely would. He’s smart like the modern man so he’s a bit out of place and unbelievable in the setting, but he’s what the reader needs to connect with that time. Gambax is more like the man I’d expect in that time period whose intelligence is very self-serving.

As I’m implying, I liked Ruso best. He was easiest to relate to and he was a kind person who got taken advantage of. He’s easy to like and I share his sympathies and frustrations because of that. Even when he sees Tilla and the other women hurting the guilty man, he wants him to be dealt with using the Emperor’s justice. He does things the right way and is admirable.

I think the realization Tilla comes to about Rianorix is very enlightening and one that a lot of people are afraid to admit. While Rian might love her and take care of her, he’s going to be in love with Aemilia until he does and settling for him would only her Tilla in the end. She has to be very brave to walk away from him and I’ve met people who are not that brave or wish they were.

Ruth Downie
Image via the author’s website

I liked the scene where Ruso hosted the free clinic. I thought the descriptions of the people who came to see him and the ailments they complained of was well written and really well researched by the author. Ruso showed his intelligence but also worked like a man in 118 with the limited resources he had. The sarcasm and humor in the scene were really enjoyable as well.

Because I liked Ruso so much, it was hard to hear about his flaws and Tilla pointed them out a lot at the beginning. Though he’s in debt, he spends a lot of money on luxuries and that was hard for me to read about. I’m very frugal so Ruso’s decisions to spend money on a hotel room was frustrating. I agreed with Tilla but it made me uncomfortable to hear negative things about a hero I like so much.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Simon Vance. He did a good job of capturing the sarcasm of Ruso and Tilla and I really appreciated that. I hope he narrates the entire series because he has a good way of expressing Ruso’s frustrations at the world he lives in and I appreciate that.

Greed plays a big role in the motivation for the murder. The killer is overreaching his means and has to protect himself to maintain his social position. The book also talks about discipline and how the hospital works when there’s discipline and order and how chaos can cause problems. Thessalus’s story is about love and devotion where there shouldn’t be any and I found this endearing and sweet. It made for a great plot twist!

Writer’s Takeaway: Two things Downie does made this book stand out for me. The first was a relatable character where history says there likely wasn’t one. She had to manipulate Ruso a little to make him relatable but I think that’s important for her series. The second is that these books are funny. It’s a subtle humor but it’s really fun, especially with the audiobook and a narrator that articulates it so well.

This book was really fun and I hope I don’t wait as long to read the third one! Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Post:
Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie | ozziesbookblog


8 Responses to “Book Review: Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie (4/5)”

  1. inspirationpie May 18, 2017 at 10:34 AM #

    This book looks TOTALLY up my alley. I am fascinated with that time period from Roman Britain right up to the time of King Arthur’s legend, just after the Romans left. Authors who can tell a story placed in a different era and make it feel real amaze me.

    Thanks, Sam! Great review 🙂



    • Sam May 18, 2017 at 10:36 AM #

      I’m so glad! This is the second in the Ruso series so there’s a whole bunch of them you can look into! Happy reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      • inspirationpie May 18, 2017 at 10:56 AM #

        I checked it out and was shocked to see how many there were! Wow! She’s prolific! I put them on my Want to Read list…*sigh* So many books, so little time!


      • Sam May 18, 2017 at 1:03 PM #

        I hope you enjoy them. I find them very funny as well. Happy reading!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. siderealday May 22, 2017 at 3:55 PM #

    Hmmm… this sounds like an interesting series. I guess I’ll put the first one on my TBR and see where it goes from there.
    I totally agree with your writer’s takeaway, so that makes me want to read it more, so maybe it’ll move off my TBR and into my hands soon-ish.


    • Sam May 22, 2017 at 4:10 PM #

      Great! These have been fun reads and I hope to keep moving through the series. They’re all available as audiobooks on Hoopla. Happy reading!



  1. Book Review: Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie (4/5) | Taking on a World of Words - December 12, 2019

    […] Terra Incognita (Medicus Investigation #2) 4/5 Persona Non Grata (Medicus Investigation #3) 4/5 […]


  2. Book Review: Semper Fidelis (Medicus Investigation #5) by Ruth Downie (4/5) | Taking On a World of Words - June 23, 2020

    […] Terra Incognita (Medicus Investigation #2) Persona Non Grata (Medicus Investigation #3) Caveat Emptor (Medicus Investigation #4) […]


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