Dark North - Gillian Bradshaw
While I usually read either crime or science fiction/fantasy, I occasionally wander off into other areas of fiction, usually because of recommendations. In this case, I ended up reading 'Dark North' because of a post on a journal about literature set in Roman times and this particular book sounded intriguing.

The basic premise behind 'Dark North' is that it's the story of a man well outside his usual element; Memnon is a member of the Roman auxiliaries, which in his case is made up of men from North Africa and beyond. Well beyond, in Memnon's case, as he'd pretty much stumbled into the Roman Empire after avenging the murder of his family. This group of auxiliaries, fresh from a few years on the Danube, is now sent to the farthest edge of the empire, to Britain as part of an attempted invasion by the current emperor.

Partly because of his penchant for practical jokes, Memnon is punished by being sent on a mission which ends up with him rescuing two members of the imperial household. His friendship with them begins a new set of trials, which sees Memnon often separated from his fellow soldiers and forced to rely on his wits for survival.

Where 'Dark North' falls down for me is not in the research that clearly went into it, but I guess in the caricature of Memnon as joker, particularly as there rarely seem to be any consequences for his actions beyond the occasional blow. The author keeps on mentioning how, in that society, Memnon's dark skin makes him 'ill omened' and perhaps that's why nothing really bad happens to him - in the end, everything works out just fine and that feels a little too stage-managed for my liking.