Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Semper Fidelis by Ruth Downie

I almost didn't get to read this book. I requested it from NetGalley, then it got archived. Then, it somehow got unarchived. But I'm not going to question that. I'll take my books when I get them.

So, Semper Fidelis (which, from what I understand, is Latin for "Always Loyal") is this Roman-era mystery set in Britain. It follows Russo, a medical officer who's investigating (against orders) the mysterious deaths of several recruits. Helping, or hindering, depending on what you think, is his native-born wife Tilla.

From the very start of the book, there's this very helpful character list that sketches out the relationships between the main characters. Treat it as those character maps you see on Japanese dramas, it doesn't tell you the whole story, but it gives you a pretty good introduction.

To me, there wasn't much mystery in this. It was mostly the whole army politics that I noticed and enjoyed. Russo seems to solve the mystery not by deduction, but by going against the flow. He's up against the Tribune and Centurions, which more-or-less hinders the entire investigation.

But this is really part of the main conflict, which would be "Romans vs Natives". You can see that the Native soldiers are discriminated against, which makes it admirable that someone like Russo is going against the grain to help them.

Added into this mix is the visit of the emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina. They mostly serve as catalysts, although Sabina gets a pretty important role towards the end.

The only thing I didn't like this book was that several key plot points hinged on chance and coincidence. I suppose that's real life, but it did feel a little like a cop-out. It's a pretty minor point though, especially in light of the excellent characters.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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