Excerpt from The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Serpent's Tale

By Ariana Franklin

The Serpent's Tale
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Jan 2008,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2009,
    416 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kathy Pierson

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

PROLOGUE

The two men's voices carried down the tunnels with reverberations that made them indistinguishable but, even so, gave the impression of a business meeting. Which it was. In a way.

An assassin was receiving orders from his client, who was, the assassin thought, making it unnecessarily difficult for himself, as such clients did.

It was always the same; they wanted to conceal their identities, and turned up so masked or muffled you could hardly hear their instructions. They didn't want to be seen with you, which led to assignations on blasted heaths or places like this stinking cellar. They were nervous about handing over the down payment in case you stabbed them and then ran off with it.

If they only realized it, a respectable assassin like himself had to be trustworthy; his career depended on it. It had taken time, but Sicarius (the Latin pseudonym he'd chosen for himself ) was becoming known for excellence. Whether it was translated from the Latin as "assassin" or "dagger," it stood for the neat removal of one's political opponent, wife, creditor, without suspicion being provable against oneself.

Satisfied clients recommended him to others who were afflicted, though they pretended to make a joke of it: "You could use the fellow they call Sicarius," they'd say. "He's supposed to solve troubles like yours."

And when pressed for information: "I don't know, of course, but rumor has it he's to be contacted at the Bear in Southwark." Or Fillola's in Rome. Or La Boule in Paris. Or at whatever inn in whichever area one was plying for trade that season.

This month, Oxford. In a cellar connected by a long tunnel to the undercroft of an inn. He'd been led to it by a masked and hooded servant—oh, really, so unnecessary—and pointed toward a rich red-velvet curtain strung across one corner, hiding the client behind it and contrasting vividly with the mold on the walls and the slime underfoot. Damn it, one's boots would be ruined.

"The . . . assignment will not be difficult for you?" the curtain asked. The voice behind it had given very specific instructions.

"The circumstances are unusual, my lord," the assassin said. He always called them "my lord." It pleased them. "I don't usually like to leave evidence, but if that is what you require . . ."

"I do, but I meant spiritually," the curtain said. "Does your conscience not worry you? Don't you fear for your soul's damnation?"

So they'd reached that point, had they, the moment when clients distanced their morality from his, he being the low-born dirty bastard who wielded the knife and they merely the rich bastards who ordered it.

He could have said, "It's a living and a good one, damned or not, and better than starving to death." He could have said, "I don't have a conscience, I have standards, which I keep to." He could even have said, "What about your soul's damnation?"

But they paid for their rag of superiority, so he desisted. Instead, he said cheerily, "High or low, my lord. Popes, peasants, kings, varlets, ladies, children, I dispose of them all—and for the same price: seventy-five marks down and a hundred when the job's done." Keeping to the same tariff was part of his success.

"Children?" The curtain was shocked.

Oh, dear, dear. Of course children. Children inherited. Children were obstacles to the stepfather, aunt, brother, cousin who would come into the estate once the little moppet was out of the way. And more difficult to dispose of than you'd think . . .

He merely said, "Perhaps you would go over the instructions again, my lord."

Reproduced with permission of Putnam Publishing. Copyright © 2008 by Ariana Franklin All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Take This Man
    Take This Man
    by Brando Skyhorse
    "A chorus of six men calling me Son might sound ludicrous to you, but to me it's the sound of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.