Terra Incognita - Ruth Downie Terra Incognita is the second installment in Downie’s series about the hapless legionary physician Gaius Petreius Ruso and his slave, the British Tilla (aka Darlughdacha). This time he’s traveling north to Hadrian’s Wall with a cohort of the XX Legion; as it happens, he’s also heading into Tilla’s homeland, whose natives are being incited to revolt by the Stag Man. An accident strands Ruso at the border fort of Coria for several days, and he’s asked to write a pro forma postmortem for the garrison’s murdered trumpeter Felix. As it would make the novel extraordinarily short otherwise, complications begin to accumulate of course, and Ruso becomes convinced that the convenient “solution” favored by the Prefect Decianus and his aide Metellus is going to send an innocent man to his death.

As in Medicus, Downie’s touch is light and undemanding; and while you know Ruso and Tilla will somehow come out on the other side, the fates of the rest of the cast are not so sure.

I’m compelled to write about the master-slave dynamic between Ruso and Tilla. So far Downie has managed to walk a fine line between the realities of slavery in the early Empire and the believability of Ruso and Tilla’s relationship. Ruso is a fundamentally decent man who has little experience with slaves; Tilla is a formerly free Briton, who still often acts like one unchained. Though Ruso knows that by law he can do pretty much anything he likes to his property, he’s too aware of Tilla’s humanity to seriously contemplate punishing her (something she’s all too aware of to Ruso’s occasional dismay). I suppose it calls for a certain suspension of disbelief but it’s something I’m willing to do in this case because – as I’ve written here and in my earlier review – I’m enjoying the read.