Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Tabula Rasa"

Ruth Downie is the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, and the newly released Tabula Rasa.

Downie applied the Page 69 Test to Tabula Rasa and reported the following:
From page 69:
“This is too important for writing down!” Tilla insisted. “I am shamed! Why are you sending soldiers to Senecio’s house?”

“I haven’t….” Even as he denied it, light dawned.

Tilla said, “They are looking for your clerk and taking names and burning people’s farms down!”

“They’re what?”

“They are burning houses!” insisted Virana. “Did you not see the smoke in the sky?”

“They searched the houses and the cow-barn,” said Tilla. “They knocked over the loom and the fire-irons and licked the honey-spoon and drank the beer and broke some eggs. They said they might set fire to everything. If I had not told them I was your wife who knows what they would have done? And then they told everybody that you had ordered them to do it!”
I was surprised, and relieved, to find that page 69 embodies the central conflict of the book: the strained relationship between occupiers and occupied in Roman Britain. I’m not sure why this fascinates me, but it’s the tension that drives me to write the series.

A little context: the story is set in AD122. The Britons are still smarting from the failure of a serious rebellion that took place a couple of years ago, and the building of Hadrian’s Wall across native farmland is raising hackles once more amongst the local tribes.

Legionary medic Ruso is currently stationed on the border, charged with tending the soldiers as they build. His wife Tilla, a British woman, has introduced him to a local family, but the tentative friendship is shortlived. Ruso is dragged into an incident between soldier and native elsewhere and Page 69 captures the moment when she tells him that he’s caused serious offence.
As the story progresses, what started as a minor spat between individuals threatens to spiral out of control, leaving Ruso and Tilla marooned on opposite sides of some serious violence. Part of the problem is the willingness of each side to believe the worst about the other – a form of behaviour that’s easy to condemn from the outside, but alarmingly easy to slip into once one is involved.

To be honest we don’t really know how the local tribes saw the building of Hadrian’s Wall: all we have is a scathing remark from one of the garrisons stationed in the area, referring to them as “wretched little Brits”.

That was enough.
Learn more about the book and author at Ruth Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caveat Emptor.

Writers Read: Ruth Downie.

--Marshal Zeringue