TABULA RASA, BY RUTH DOWNIE (Book 6 of Medicus Investigation)
This series was a recommendation from my sister. She dangled the book in front of me while saying "It's mystery... set in Britannia when it was part of the Roman Empire... and the detective is a doctor," before I tackled her to the ground and took it from her hands. I have enjoyed the previous ones immensely, and this was no different.
Synopsis: While the Twentieth Legion finishes its work in building Hadrian's wall in the north of Britannia, a rumor starts that there's a body buried in the wall. Their medicus, Gaius Petreius Ruso, with the help of his Briton wife, Tilla, tries to investigate, but is sidetracked by mysterious the disappearance of his assistant and of a local boy.
Overall enjoyment: I quite liked it. The mystery part took a while to start, but the developments were very entertaining.
Plot: Very well developed, full of twists and turns, all of them perfectly foreshadowed.
Characters: The "regular cast" of Gaius, Tilla, Valens and Albanus was brilliant, as usual. I love how well characterized they are, and how they develop with each book, instead of remaining stationary. The "visiting cast", of characters just for this book, was also very well done.
World/setting: In all her books, Downie admits that she took a lot of liberties in recreating this setting. Other than the few specks of evidence that remain today and the knowledge of the Roman Empire in itself, very little is known of the the day-to-day living in that part of the world and those times. That being so, she makes a wonderful job of portraying it, with a very vivid and particular atmosphere.
Writing style: Even though sometimes she uses expressions and analogies that are decidedly not Roman, I still love the way she writes. It's fluid and direct, with a delightful twist of humor to it.
Representation: Very poor when it comes to POC. The whole debate of historical accuracy would fit in this part, I honestly don't know enough history to criticize. Maybe there should be some more dark-skinned soldiers? I'm pretty sure there were Africans in the Legions at that time. Then again, I have this notion that each Legion would be more likely to absorb the locals that wanted to join where it was, rather than dislodge people from remote parts of the Empire. Really, I wouldn't know.
Political correctness: This is a difficult category. She is trying to portray the Roman Empire, so her characters have the views that were common at the time, with slavery being commonplace and homosexuality being accepted not because of equal rights, but because it was the pinnacle of misogyny. On the other hand, she also always makes sure to tell the other side of the story, from the point of view of the Britons who were conquered.
Up next: An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay