Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review: The Serpent's Tale

Author:  Ariana Franklin
Format: Hardcover 384 pgs;
Characters: Adelia Aguilar, Rowley Picot, Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine
Subject: murder, intrigue
Setting: 12th century England
Series: Mistress of the Art of Death
Genre: Fiction; suspense
Source: my own library
Challenge: Read From My Shelves

Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar has been called out of retirement by the Bishop of Saint Albans (Rowley Picot) to investigate the mysterious poisoning of Rosamund Clifford, mistress of King Henry II.  Henry's wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, recently escaped from her imprisonment in France, is the prime suspect, and all fear another civil war is brewing because of it.

If you have read Franklin's earlier book, Mistress of the Art of Death, these characters are well-known. If not, it doesn't matter. This one can stand on its own. It's another fascinating look at the field of forensics from the 12th century viewpoint.  Adelia is a Medica, trained at the famous medical school in Salerno Sicily and as such, a practicing physician. Her specialty though is death.  She is a Doctor of Death – the equivalent of a modern day forensic pathologist-- who has special training in deducing from the dead how and why they died, and in the case of homicides, who killed them.

In England however, if it were known that she has this calling and training, she would be subject to being burned at the stake as a practitioner of witchcraft.  Thus, she travels with a huge lovable Saracen eunuch named Mansour, sent from Sicily to accompany her as her bodyguard. As far as the English are concerned, "DR Mansour" is always assisted by, and has as his translator, Mistress Adelia. The fact that Adelia has given birth to a child fathered by Rowley (before Henry made him a bishop) is another strike against her.

In this episode, fair (Henry thinks so anyway) Rosamund has been poisoned by mushrooms delivered by a servant girl who claims to have received the basket from a lady in the forest. NO SPOILERS.The setting is a hellacious winter (the Thames has frozen over), the English forests and countryside, and an isolated Abbey inhabited by a group of very capable sisters. The characters include an unnamed assassin (who is introduced at the very beginning but who is not identified as such until the end), a totally loony (can you say 'off the deep end'?) maid servant to Rosamund, an icy but imperious Queen Eleanor, several dead bodies in various states of decay and decrepitude, and enough plot twists to keep the reader awake to the wee hours.
Good historical fiction.Great suspense thriller.More than adequate love story.

1 comment:

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