Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin

In twelfth-century England, one remarkable woman is trained to uncover the final secrets of the dead.

Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II, has died an agonising death by poison - and the king's estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the prime suspect. Henry suspects that Rosamund's murder is the first move in Eleanor's long-simmering plot to overthrow him. If Eleanor is guilty, the result could be civil war. The king must once again summon Adelia Aguilar, mistress of the art of death, to uncover the truth.

Adelia is not happy to be called out of retirement. She has been living contentedly in the countryside, caring for her infant daughter. But Henry's summons can not be ignored, and Adelia must again join forces with the king's trusted fixer, Rowley Picot, the Bishop of Saint Albans, who is also her baby's father.

Adelia and Rowley travel to the murdered courtesan's home, a tower within a walled maze - a strange and sinister place from the outside, where a bizarre and gruesome discovery awaits them. But Adelia's investigation is cut short by the appearance of Rosamund's rival: Queen Eleanor. Adelia, Rowley, and the other members of her small party are taken to the nunnery in Godstow, where Eleanor is holed up for the winter with her band of mercenaries.

Isolated and trapped inside the nunnery by the snow and cold, Adelia watchs as dead bodies begin piling up. The murders are somehow connected with Rosamund's demise. Adelia knows that there may be more than one killer at work, and she must unveil their true identities before England is once again plunged into civil war.
Marg says:

It's fair to say that I really enjoy the work of British author Diana Norman, whether we are talking about the straight historical novels that she publishes under that name, or the historical mysteries that she has started to write under the pen name of Ariana Franklin.

With the character of Adelia Aguilar, we have a character who can take us to the heart of a medieval murder, in the same way that we can see when we watch TV series like CSI. She has been specially trained in the medical schools of Italy to investigate the hows and whys of peoples deaths. In the previous book in the series, Adelia found herself in King Henry II's England, and with this book she is summoned again by the king himself to investigate and see whether his beloved mistress, Rosamund Clifford, may have been murdered, even though she lives in a tower in the middle of a barely accessible maze.

What complicates the investigation this time is that Adelia not only has to look after her own safety, and the safety of her friends, but also that of her daughter. She is being accompanied during her investigation Rowley Picot, a man of many masks - the King's trusted fixer, Bishop, Adelia's ex lover, and father of her child.

For me, one of the strongest parts of this novel was when all the characters were snowed in together for a good length of time. With everyone eager to impress Queen Eleanor who has unexpectedly arrived, and who is looking to start an uprising against her husband for her own reasons, life in a small community is difficult enough, let alone when you are trying to investigate a crime, and keep the Queen happy at the same time.

There is less of the investigation aspect used in this novel, and more interaction with the other characters, most of them have more than one agenda. As the body count grows, Adelia must protect her people, untangle the complicated relationships, and find the murderers of a several people.

I know that there are people who have read the first novel for whom the relationship with Rowley didn't really work, but it really doesn't bother me. I like that there is a chance for Adelia to be loved for the strong and intelligent woman that she is, even if it is a love that has to be constrained by time, distance and circumstance. It probably helps that I like Rowley a lot.

Overall, another fun read, from a fine historical author. I look forward to reading Grave Goods, the third book in the series, which is due to be released in March 2009. It is probably worth mentioning that this book has also been released under a different title in some countries - Death Maze.

Kailana says:

After reading Mistress of the Art of Death last year, I was very excited to read this book by her and see what was going to happen next. Many of the cast of characters from the previous book are present, so the reader gets a chance to watch the characters grow even more in this book. Once again, the book is centred around Adelia Aguilar, the forsenics expert, so the vast amount of the story is told from her point of view.

The awkward part of this book, and the previous one, was the romance angle. It was not a terrible decision, but it does not really flow for me with the rest of the book. Now, Adelia has an infant daughter that has to be worked in to the storyline, so that makes things even more complicated. She loves her daughter, hates leaving her for even a moment, so she is not the same Adelia from the previous book in many ways. She is still capable of tracking down a killer, but there is not as much forensic work in this novel as in the previous one. Adelia is also caught between two feuding monarches, so it was really interesting for Franklin to add Queen Eleanor to the storyline and actually give her a presence in the book.

Adelia had been leading a quiet life since the events of the last novel, but now the kings favourite mistress has been killed, and he wants Adelia to get to the bottom of it. Adelia would be just as happy to stay where she is, but if the king commands it, she has to answer the call. A mistresses death is not the only event that Adelia will get wrapped up in, so be ready for some adventures similiar to the previous novel. When the pieces come together you will not be sure if you are surprised or you expected things to work out that way.

Overall, I enjoyed this second novel in the series. I think I liked book one better, but at the same time the events are a bit different so it is hard to make an exact comparision between the two. Franklin is an excellent writer, and I cannot wait for the next book in the series. I strongly recommend this book to those that like mystery or historical fiction, you will not be disappointed!

(Kailana's review originally posted February 12 2008)


  1. I am really looking forward to the next book in this series. I really should read some of her books under her other name, but everytime I try and order one of them, I never get it!

  2. Wonderful reviews! You really have to quit adding to my TBR like this! LOL!