Gaius Ruso Mystery #3: Persona Non Grata by Ruth Downie

Read: 4 October, 2009

When Gaius Petreius Ruso receives a strange letter from his brother, he has no choice but to return to Gaul. Once there, however, he discovers that he has been tricked and he’s about to find out just how dangerous “civilization” can be.

We’ve seen quite a bit of Roman-occupied Britain, but now we get a glimpse of Ruso in his own environment; and this presents its own whole set of dangers. Once again, Downie is able to stay faithful to everything I love about the series without making it seem like just another replica.

I was a bit concerned when Christianity was introduced to the story, as Tilla spends time with Christian slaves. Books with Christian subplots so often devolve into apologetics either for or against the religion. I was practically holding my breath through the whole novel! But Downie manages to handle it with great finesse, simply including it as she does other historical details, and remains blessedly non-partisan.

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Druids by Morgan Llywelyn

Read: 12 March, 2009

When Ainvar’s grandmother gives her life to save her tribe from starvation, he begins his journey to learn the true meaning of sacrifice. Along with his “soul friend,” the warrior Vercingetorix, Ainvar must find a way to end Caesar’s conquest of Gaul.

POSITIVE: Great plot and a fantastic pace. After a painful beginning, this novel quickly became an exciting page-turner.

NEGATIVE: Unfortunately, this great story was burdened with several narrative issues. Right from the start, the reader is met with page after page of unnecessary exposition. Exciting scenes would be broken up by dull interludes explaining the meaning of this or that ritual or detail. The choice of the first person narrative may also have been a mistake as there is no clear perspective or reason for the telling of the story (at one point, Ainvar says “I must remember to ask Menua,” despite the fact that Menua has already died from the narrator’s perspective). Finally, I have to mention the scene where Ainvar looks into a mirror. He describes the “young man staring back at me” as:

“He had an elegant narrow head with a long skull suitable for storing knowledge. The eye sockets were deeply carved, the cheekbones high, the nose prominent and thrusting. It was a strong clear timeless face full of contradictions, brooding yet mischievous, reserved yet involved. Fathomless eyes and curving lips spoke of intense passions carefully suppressed, concentrated in stillness.”

Who, I ask, would ever write in this way about themselves? It’s just silly.

Overall, I would say that this book is worth the read, especially for people with an interest in historical battles or the history of Gaul. That being said, readers should be prepared for a less-than-fabulous writing style and an incomplete mastery of the first person narrative.

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Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green

Read: 25 November, 2007

I have no idea how accurate the information in this dictionary is because I know just about zilch about Celtic mythology. However, I do like the book based on a purely “how interesting is it?” criterion. While it may be read through from cover to cover (as I did in about two days), I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Because it’s a dictionary and because each entry is intended to stand along, many of the stories and ideas are repeated several times. It would be much better used as a reference book.

The entries are fairly short, ranging from about a paragraph or two as the norm to about a page as an extreme. Because of their shorter length, they obviously are not terribly detailed. Each entry gives a general overview of its concept and includes other terms and names that may also be looked up. In essence, it’s a great place to get a vague idea to start with, but other books are needed if a more in-depth study is to be conducted.

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