“Semper Fidelis” by Ruth Downie – Always Faithful

“Semper Fidelis” by Ruth Downie  (2013) – 327 pages


“Semper Fidelis” takes place near the town of York (Eboracum) in the Roman province of Britannia during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (Emperor from 117 AD to 138 AD).  In fact Hadrian and his wife Sabina make several appearances in the story.   However they are not the main characters.  The main characters are chief legion medical officer  Gaius Petreius Ruso and his Britannia-born wife Tilla.  It was quite rare for a Roman to marry a woman who came from the native tribes of Britain which in itself aroused suspicion among the Romans.

“Semper Fidelis” is the fifth book of a series on the Roman Empire with Ruso and Tilla by Ruth Downie, but it  entirely stands alone without any knowledge of previous books necessary.

The form of “Semper Fidelis” is a mystery and a very traditional mystery at that.  The Romans are recruiting British men into the Roman legions.  Some of these British recruits are dying and sustaining severe injuries under suspicious circumstances.  Both Russo and Tilla are trying to figure out what is the cause, much to the chagrin of some of their Roman superiors.

It is ironic to note that way back then in the second century AD, England itself was a colony of the Roman Empire, and the people of England were considered primitive barbaric members of tribes.  I guess turnabout is fair play.  Who better is there to understand the evils of colonization than the British?  Who better to understand the difficulties of recruiting men from the local tribes of the colony into the Imperial Army?

If you are looking for detailed knowledge or penetrating insights into the Roman occupation of Britannia, you won’t find them in “Semper Fidelis”.  Instead this book is a cozy little English drawing-room  mystery  even though much of the action takes place outside.   The story has several eccentric humorous characters and much good-natured dialogue between husband Ruso and wife Tilla.  The book does get the basic facts right such as Hadrian’s visit to Britannia to oversee the construction of his wall.  Ruth Downie is comfortable enough writing a story in the Roman era so she does not need to hit the reader over the head with details.  This is a fun read rather than a deep read, more about colorful personalities and an exciting story rather than the more serious aspects of  the Roman era.   On those terms, “Semper Fidelis” is an entertaining success.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Excellent, I am always on the lookout for books like this for my father, I reckon he’ll like this a lot.


    • Hi Lisa,
      I don’t know if your father listens to audiobooks or not, but that is how I listened to this book, and it does come across well that way. There is so much dialogue, it is almost like a play.


      • Uh, no, his hearing isn’t up to that, and no eBooks either, though he can see the value of being able to enlarge the print. But I’m sure I can find a print version somewhere.


  2. Hey, this sounds like my kind of book. 🙂


    • Hi Kat,

      This is the 5th book already in her Roman series, and Ruth Downie looks quite young. I expect there will be many more in this series.


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