Two Book Reviews: Medicus and The Thieves of Ostia

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire

Medicus is the story of  Ruso, a doctor in Roman Britain. He has ended up in Rome after a bad divorce, some family troubles and a disappointing career. Soon after his arrival he reluctantly becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of several young female prostitutes. The other half of the story centers around his relationship with a Celtic girl he purchases in order to save her from a slave trader who has abused her. Much of the book is about his relationship with this girl, first as doctor-patient and then as owner and slave.

It’s a difficult book to review because it’s a difficult book to pigeon-hole. It’s a mystery but the mystery really takes a backseat to the other parts of the story. The mystery itself is not that engaging or much of a puzzle to solve. It’s also historical fiction and as such does offer some interesting glimpses into Roman British life and medical care in Roman times. However, the characters have a certain modern sensibility to them. Ruso in particular seems to be modern in his thinking about women and slavery. However, more than that the language has a modern feel to it, at least to my ears. I can’t think that this is an accident on the author’s part so I almost felt like the book was written as a “spoof” at times but I don’t think that’s exactly the right word to describe it. It is funny and I enjoyed that.

Overall, I’d say I’m glad I read it and I’ll likely read the next in the series (it’s the first in a planned series with the same characters). It’s different from a lot of other books I’ve read  and for that reason alone I enjoyed it.

 

Roman Mysteries #1: Thieves of Ostia

Staying with the Roman mysteries theme (which I gather from looking on Amazon is a much hotter genre than I realized), I recently read this book out loud to John. It’s also the first in a series and I believe has been made into a BBC children’s TV show. In this first book in the series, we meet Flavia Gemina, a young Roman girl who is the daughter of a sea-captain. Flavia and her next door neighbor Jonathan decide to look for the culprit when Jonathan’s dog is killed and the head is chopped off.  They are joined by Nubia, a young slave that Flavia buys in order to save her from an evil trader (you can see a theme here) and Lupus a beggar who is mute because his tongue has cut out.

John liked the book.  He could read it himself but he found it a little scary and so wanted me to read it with him. We tend to have a read-aloud for lunchtime and bedtime so that was fine with me. The book did have some themes that were a little scary (the description of the slave market, the death of a neighborhood girl from rabies, suicide, the beheading of the dogs) but I thought it was handled well for the most part. I think it’s meant for slightly older kids (Amazon says ages 9-12) but John is very interested in the Roman empire right now and loves mysteries so this was hard to pass up once I heard about it. I’m not sure if we’ll read more as read-alouds or wait until he’s able to handle the scarier bits and read them on his own.

I would put this somewhere above Magic Treehouse style books in terms of the quality of the writing but it’s not anywhere near the quality of classic children’s literature. Still, it was a fun read, not quite what I’d call “brain candy” but close.

 

One thought on “Two Book Reviews: Medicus and The Thieves of Ostia

  1. both books sound quite interesting. I enjoy historical mysteries. Thanks for the reviews. Have you ever read Rosemary Sutcliff? She writes YA books about Roman Britain. I don’t remember them being terribly scary but haven’t read them as a read-aloud in a while.

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