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Terra Incognita: A Novel of the Roman Empire [Hardcover]

Ruth Downie
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (4 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596912324
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596912328
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.5 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,665,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ruth (RS) Downie left university with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. She is still working on it. In the meantime she is also the New York Times bestselling author of a mystery series featuring Roman doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso.

The latest book is 'Semper Fidelis', and the previous four are:

Medicus (published as 'Medicus/Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls' in the UK and Australia)

Terra Incognita ('Ruso and the Demented Doctor')

Persona non Grata ('Ruso and the Root of All Evils')

Caveat Emptor ('Ruso and the River of Darkness')

Ruth is not the RS Downie who writes real medical textbooks. Absolutely none of the medical advice in the Ruso books should be followed. Roman and Greek doctors were very wise about many things but they were also known to prescribe donkey dung and boiled cockroaches.

Find out more at www.rsdownie.co.uk

Product Description


Army doctor Gaius Petrius Ruso journeys to early second-century Britannia in the hope of securing a quieter life, only to encounter local turbulence, a circumstance that is complicated by the vengeful plans of his slave, Tilla. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Fun for Fans of All Things Roman 2 May 2008
By J. Chippindale TOP 500 REVIEWER
Beware this book is also published under the title of Ruso and the Demented Doctor.

After all the confusion with the first book, masquerading under two titles and a change of front cover, which fooled me into buying two copies of the same book, I was unsure whether to put any of my hard earned cash down on this one, but all things being equal the first book was an enjoyable read in the same vein as Lindsey Davis or Steven Saylor, so why cut off my nose to spite my face.

This is the second novel in the Medicus Series, featuring as its main character, Gaius Petreius Ruso, a divorced and down on his luck army doctor, who has made the rash decision of attempting tomake not only a career but a fortune in the far flung reaches the Roman Empire, namely Britain.

In the previous book Russo and the Disappearing Dancing Girls, Gaius manages to acquire himself a slave girl Tilla, not even Gaius is sure how he managed to do that, but the pair of them make a good team and the antics and scrapes that they get up to between them makes for enjoyable reading. If the books continue to the same standard of the first two there is no reason why this should not be an excellent series. Whether it ever achieves the cult status of the Lindsey Davis offerings remains to be seen.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Terra Incognita! 11 Jun 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is Ruth Downies second book and second in a series about a Roman Doctor 'Ruso' Gaius Petreius Ruso, who has now moved to Hadrians wall from the city of Deva (Chester) taking his 'slave' Tilla with him.

Accidentally in Deva, Ruso became embroiled in a murder investigation, which after a successful conclusion, he decided to go North for a rest. Enroute however, mysterious incidents drag Ruso and Tilla back into suspicious circumstances where a strange figure with anklers on his head is harrassing the column heading North.

Upon their arrival at the local Fort, which is built on Tilla's home land, a soldier is found decapitated. Ruso then takes over from the incumbent Doctor, who is claiming he killed the soldier and is locked away within the hospital and being treated with poppy seeds to 'calm the mind.'

What ensues is a 'who dunnit' mystery encompassing the local tribes, some of whom are friendly to the occupying Roman force, some of whom who are not and the soldiers who find themselves in the vicinity.

Tilla as she did in the previous novel, gets herself into all types of scrapes especially when she finds certain surviving relatives, her immediate family having been killed in a fire in suspicious circumstances.

Poor old Ruso is dragged ever deeper into the problems of the Fort, his association with Tilla and his attmpts to clean up the hospital which has been used for none medical reasons such as beer distribution.

This is another good story but if you are looking for a Scarrow type book with battles and mayhem, linked to history, you will not find it here. It is a mystery set in Roman Britain, that in reality could be set in Holby City! However, if you are interested in anything to do with Roman Britain, I'm sure you will enjoy this!
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  44 reviews
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Second to a Good First in the Series 14 Mar 2008
By Suzanne Cross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed the first venture in this series, Medicus (2006), and was delighted to get this second entry in the series. There is nothing but good news for those who enjoy well-plotted Roman mysteries, although I do have a suggestion or two for the author as she continues in what I hope will become an established and popular foray into the ancient Roman army and murder mysteries. She has fine characters, an extremely likeable protagonist, a good sense of historical place, and a good sense of plotting. I must admit, I haven't been close to guessing "whodunnit" and I usually can. She also has none of that "how on earth did she pick HIM for the killer" syndrome, which drives me nuts when the killer turns out to be someone totally unlikely.

This is a fun read; the author was a wonderful dry sense of the ridiculous that will keep you laughing aloud more than once. I had only two small concerns after its enjoyable and satisfying conclusion. Our hero, Gaius Petreius Ruso, a doctor to the legions, is in this novel so overwhelmed with difficulties in the far north of Britain that at points I got a tad impatient with him. Ruso is a great character, ironic, self-effacing, modest, likeable and decent, and the characters that surround him have an almost Dickenesque eccentricity: their personal pecadilloes are not only funny but firmly contrast to our hero's. The dialogue is rapid fire and a rather modern sense of wry angst adds its own flavor to the brew. One certainly feels that bureaucrats in 2008 and AD 128 were largely similar. However, I wanted poor Ruso do to a little better SOMEWHERE . . . he appeared confused to the point of ineptness at several places in the plot, and we need to retain both our affection for him, and our respect. He began to seem like a well-meaning dweeb. I also got occasionally impatient with Tilla, the native Briton/ex-slave/current girlfriend, and found her frequent disappearances during the novel (to visit friends, family, enemies, graves, old boyfriends) to be a tad peculiar. Surely even an open-minded, tolerant and affectionate Roman might ask, after 72 hours or so, where his slave girlfriend had disappeared to? Again, these are very tiny criticisms in the body of a fun and well-plotted novel, I just hope that, in Volume 3, Ruso could be a little more Roman and Tilla could be a little less attitutudinal.

Otherwise, I enjoyed this and can heartily recommend it for those who enjoy careful history with their murderous intrigues.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent But Not Great Sequel 16 May 2008
By Douglas S. Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Gaius Petreius Ruso, doctor of the Roman 20th Legion, reprises his role as a part-time decidedly amateur criminal investigator (after the surprise hit Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire). Set in 2nd century Britain, Ruso has moved farther north with Tilla, who is either his slave (legally), his housekeeper (not too often), or his lover depending on the situation and their respective moods.

Ruso has volunteered to go north so that Tilla can visit the area where she grew up on the very edge of the Roman Empire (Hadrian's Wall would later be built in this area). Some Britons are straining under Roman rule, a mysterious Stag Man is trying to lead a rebellion of sorts. A worker had been injured in what appears at least to have been an accident. A Roman soldier has died in a clearly non-accidental murder - and his head is literally lost in the taking. A Roman doctor has gone off his head. Ruso tries to get to the bottom of it all.

The story is an enjoyable, mostly light tale, but Downie puts too many moving parts in play that merely serve to confuse the reader rather than entice them into solving the mystery. The developing relationship between Ruso and Tilla is central to the enjoyment of the story. Terra Incognita has less detail about the Roman army and almost anything written about the native tribes is pure speculation. Recommended.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Roman Briton Mystery 2 April 2008
By Story Circle Book Reviews - Published on Amazon.com
Sounds familiar. It's a wild border tale, like the ones I read growing up out on the high plains of Texas.

All is well. The natives are happy, tranquil--almost. Okay, sometimes they fight among themselves, but overall it's the good, unspoiled life--until the intruders appear. Their army takes over, builds a wooden fort, messes with the local girls, skirmishes with the guys.

Sounds familiar, yes, except that the border is in Britannia and the time is almost 2,000 years ago when Emperor Hadrian was just coming to power. (Hadrian ruled the Roman Empire from 117 to 138.)

The medico Doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso leaves the relative safety of the more established South to travel with the army alleviating pain, sawing off limbs, and doing what he can. They are headed to Coria where a few years later Hardrian's Wall will rise in a Roman attempt to exclude the unwanted Northerners from Rome's civilized ways. (Talk about contemporary parallels!)

The good doctor does not travel alone, although sometimes he wishes he were. Tilla, his native slave-turned-companion (in her language her name is Darlugdacha) seems to seek out trouble. By being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or was she?) she leads Ruso into this adventure.

Felix the trumpeter has been brutally murdered. Who did it? Tilla's former intended, Rianorix the baker, or was it Thesssalus, the fort medico who has taken leave of his senses and is confessing? Confusion abounds.

An impending visit from the Governor of Britannia looms over all decisions. "We've got to look good" is a truth through all ages. Ruso is persuaded to take over the infirmary from the ailing Tessalus (and to tend to him). That's a challenge itself, but still, there is plenty of time for the good doctor to immerse himself in the communities both inside the fort and in the nearby village, and to have a go at solving the mystery and setting things straight. He has his own brush with death--not exactly a burning-at-the-stake, but the outcome would have been the same.

Who will enjoy this adventure? Anyone who took Latin in high school or college, anyone who has visited northern England (for real or vicariously), anyone who enjoys a good American western novel or merely a good yarn--just about everyone.

Don't let the strange names and terrain stand in your way. A map (a must) and a cleverly anotated cast of characters both appear at the book's beginning. For even more information about the geography and history of the times visit the Hadrians Wall Country website. The author also provides a brief but complete bibliography in her "Afterward."

by Patricia Nordyke Pando
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the First 27 April 2009
By Judith A. Weller - Published on Amazon.com
I found this book rather disappointing. I am getting rather sick of Tilla and wish she would get written out of the book. She is a distraction. While she was fun in the first volume, she is a dead bore in this one. I find her dialog and behaviour terrible and wish she would be treated more like a typical Roman slave. The mystery is good and Ruso is execellent and I like him as a character, but I find Tilla a useless adjunct as a love interest and fail to see why Ruso even cares about her. Her presence it what makes me only give this 3 stars. I fear the author will not write her out which is unfortunate for the series.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Light & Easy 2nd Century Mystery in Roman Britain 30 July 2011
By S. Hines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
TERRA INCOGNITA is a historical mystery set in 2nd century Roman Britain. G.P. Ruso is a Roman army doctor turned accidental detective when an apparently ritual murder occurs during his brief visit to an army post in the outer reaches of Brittania. He takes it upon himself to find the murderer when he becomes convinced that an innocent man stands accused. His slave, Tilla, provides the requisite romantic interest and is a cunning foil to the somewhat bumbling Ruso. A crowd of Roman and Briton characters completes the cast and, for the reader, serve to muddy the waters as to the real identity of the murderer.

This is the second in a series set in Roman Britain. I have not read the first book, MEDICUS, but it isn't necessary to have read the prior book to understand what's going on in TERRA INCOGNITA. It's strong enough to stand alone without the support of the earlier story. The writing itself is above average, though my opinion may be a bit skewed thanks to having read several poorly written books just prior to reading TERRA INCOGNITA. I am no expert on Roman Britain, but the author does seem to have done the necessary research to render a believable setting. I found no glaring anachronisms to smack the reader in the face. On the other hand, the rendering of the native British tribes seemed thin and somewhat dependent on the modern New Age romanticizing found in Wicca and pseudo-Celtic spiritualism. But I can forgive some of that since so little is truly known about the early tribal life of native Britons.

The solution to the murder mystery is entertaining and the author provides enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing, at least for a while. I'd read about 2/3 of the book before I was fairly certain I'd solved it; I read a lot of mysteries, so 2/3 is pretty good. Two issues I had with the book keep this from being a 4 star review. First, the profuse use of English slang on the lips of Roman legionaries was highly annoying. "Sorry, pal...little bugger...matey on the horse...answer the bloody door...these doctor fellers...driven him crackers...", I found myself waiting for a Roman soldier to call someone a `wanker'. Roman slang is easily found; an internet search turns up reams of it, and its use in context would certainly provide all the definition needed.

Secondly, the situation between Ruso and his slave Tilla stretched the bounds of credulity. While it is true that in some cases trusted slaves in the Roman empire enjoyed a remarkable amount of freedom, it is clear in the story that Tilla is anything but trusted. To think that a Roman slaveowner would allow a slave of whom he's suspicious to disappear for days on end (in her own rebellious homeland yet), or look the other way when he learns said slave was found in bed with her ex, cuddled "like kittens", is simply unbelievable.

Despite these caveats, TERRA INCOGNITA, still rates an "OK" rating; maybe not worth $11, but OK at a couple bucks for a used copy, or free from the library. It's a light read, no profound themes or explorations here, but it is perfectly adequate to while away some time. A waiting room in a doctor's office, or queued up to retrieve the kids from school come to mind.

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