The Medicus Codex

Written by Cy Stein
Review by Justin M. Lindsay

When Aaron, a Galilean Jew, leaves his homeland for Rome, he knows he aims high in seeking to become a student of Galen, Rome’s undisputed master physician. On his way he is beaten and robbed, attacked by a rabid dog, and imprisoned for counterfeiting the emperor’s currency. And this is all before the adventure really begins. Though faced with discrimination, and though he has little in the way of resources, he joins forces with new friends and old family and begins his own medical practice as Gaius Romulus Saccius. But even such an overtly Roman name cannot hide his heritage, and his talents and intellect bring him not only new opportunities, but also new enemies. Can he and his friends and family prevail as he is drawn into the world of slavers, low-life gangsters, and the Roman imperial court?

The Medicus Codex is Stein’s debut novel, what will become book one of a new series. As a highly respected physician himself, Stein is able to lend great authority to Gaius’s medical practice, and readers will leave the book with an amateur medical degree themselves. Stein does well at breathing life into 3rd-century Rome. It’s a fascinating, dark, and dangerous place. There is perhaps too much eagerness, too much cramming in everything that the new author has always wanted to cram into a novel. I never connected with Gaius or his travails. If there is a beauty, he will bed her. If there is revenge to be had, he will have it. If there is a foe to overcome, he will do so – and then some. I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading, with the prologue having the feel of a mystery setup, and yet the ending never tying back into it. I found some of the violence, and all of the sex scenes, gratuitously graphic. Perhaps with his second novel Stein will have worked some of this out of his system and give us a more intriguing Gaius.