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Book Review: Semper Fidelis (Medicus Investigation #5) by Ruth Downie (4/5)

23 Jun

I’ve always enjoyed this series. I came up on the first one very randomly while browsing at Boarders (yes, that’s how long ago I picked it up) and I’ve been happy to keep reading them on and off since. I’m happy to always find one when I need a pick-me-up.

Cover image via Amazon

Semper Fidelis (Medicus Investigation #5) by Ruth Downie

Other books by Downie reviewed on this blog:

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

Summary from Goodreads;

Back at his post as a doctor in the Twentieth legion in Roman-occupied Britain, Ruso uncovers a new danger even closer to home than the neighboring barbarians. As mysterious injuries, and even deaths, begin to appear in the medical ledgers, it’s clear that all is not well amongst the native recruits to Britannia’s imperial army. Is the much- decorated Centurion Geminus preying on his weaker soldiers? And could this be related to the appearance of Emperor Hadrian? Bound by his sense of duty and ill-advised curiosity, Ruso begins to ask questions nobody wants to hear. Meanwhile his barbarian wife, Tilla, is finding out some of the answers-and marked as a security risk by the very officers Ruso is interrogating. With Hadrian’s visit looming large, the fates of the legion, Tilla, and Ruso himself hang in the balance.

Ruso’s wit has always been enjoyable. It’s one of the things I like most about these books. And Tilla is getting more and more time to narrate. That being said, this one didn’t stand out as much as the past ones had in my mind. Ruso being accused early on took away a lot of the joy that his character often gave. And Tilla’s investigation took away from a lot of the character development she had commanded in recent books. It was just enough out of step for me to enjoy the book a bit less. Also, the reveal of the killers was just subtle enough that I didn’t get it right away and I had to re-listen to the final ten minutes before I understood what had happened.

The characters in these books are always credible to me. The characters do the best they can with the world they’re living in; the dangers of the Roman period, the medicines known to them, and the average intelligence and education of the people. Ruso is a privileged person and he knows this and has always done as much as he can for the others. It’s what makes him admirable and flawed. He’s a wonderful narrator for this series.

Ruso was the standout character in this book to me. Normally, I lean toward Tilla, but her story fell flat to me this time around. Her concerns about fertility didn’t come through and she was more of a helper than anything this time and didn’t give me much to like. Ruso was himself though in a much more perilous situation than normal. He and Tilla, usually a wonderful pair, were separated for a lot of the story and it was hard to see them without their support system. I’m hoping they’ll be more of a pair again in the next book.

I could identify with Ruso at the end, though at a much smaller scale. This is a bit of a spoiler, so skip ahead to avoid it. The next paragraph will be safe again. I understood why Ruso would confess to a crime he hadn’t done to keep the peace of the empire. I’d be willing to lie about something I hadn’t done to keep peace in my family. I’ll take the fall for something my husband did to save face in front of his family. I’m not sure I’d take it so far as the face death, though.

Ruth Downie
Image via Audible

Sabina was a great side character in this book and Tilla’s interactions with her were fun. Her opinion of the empire and her time in Britain was fun and it was fun to see her feel powerful for once. I can’t imagine the marriage she was in and how that would feel for her, but seeing her play her part was fun. I can see how she garnered such loyalty.

The ending was a bit quick and vague for me. Like I said, I had to re-listen to the final 15 minutes to understand what had happened because I missed it the first time around. It’s not a huge criticism, but it was frustrating, especially listening to the audiobook which makes it much harder to go back and revisit the text.

Simon Vance is an amazing narrator for this series. I hope he’s able to do the whole thing because I’ve come to define his voice and Ruso’s as one. His voices for women aren’t amazing, but I get over it because of the amazing accents he has for Romans and Britons. His inflections for Ruso’s vapid family members always have me giggling.

There is usually something larger than oneself that you would give up everything for. Semper Fidelis is well known in the US as the moto for the US Marines (usually shortened to SemperFi). It carries a lot of weight in US culture. It meant a lot to Ruso, too. He is a cog in the machine, a medicus in an empirical army, but he recognizes the importance of his role and the larger empire he’s representing and holding together. Sometimes, things are bigger than us.

Writer’s Takeaway: Downie’s humor has always been my favorite. Even in a murder mystery, she’s making me smile and laugh. I enjoy the banter between her characters and her balance of serious and humorous characters that keep the book moving with a lighter tone between somber bits. It’s a balance that’s well-executed and I’m not sure it would work in less practiced hands. It could easily be farcical but here it’s wonderful.

A wonderful mystery and a great story in this series. I’ll plan to continue onward. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the Pre-1300 time period in the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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