Ariana Franklin combines the best of modern forensic
thrillers with the drama of historical fiction in the enthralling second novel
in the Mistress of the Art of Death series, featuring medieval heroine
Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II, has died an agonizing death by poison - and the king's estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the prime suspect. Henry suspects that Rosamund's murder is probably 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, Allie. But Henry's summons cannot be ignored, and Adelia must again join forces with the king's trusted fixer, Rowley Picot, the Bishop of St. Albans, who is also her baby's father.
Adelia and Rowley travel to the murdered courtesan's home, in a tower within a walled labyrinth - a strange and sinister place from the outside, but far more so on the inside, 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 captive by Eleanor's henchmen and held in the nunnery of Godstow, where Eleanor is holed up for the winter with her band of mercenaries, awaiting the right moment to launch their rebellion.
Isolated and trapped inside the nunnery by the snow and cold, Adelia and Rowley watch as dead bodies begin piling up. 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 . . .
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 ...
The events of this novel involve historical personages including Henry Plantagenet, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry's mistress Rosamund Clifford, and others. Adelia is an independent, courageous, and mentally forceful woman, and her insertion into this tapestry of the Middle Ages at times seems a bit of a stretch. Some will quibble that Franklin's writing and dialogue slip as often into modern phrasings as into a quaint East Anglican brogue. The sentence structures can be difficult to follow, and the writing tone doesn't always align with the 12th-century setting of the novel. However, these things being said, The Serpent's Tale is a fun and engaging fiction set in an interesting and tumultuous period of English history that has received much less literary attention than the overdone Tudor period. Visiting this unfamiliar era, and then following research trails afterward, rewarded me with many new facts and background histories. This book should appeal to those who enjoy strong female characters, medically-based crime solving, or British mysteries and intrigues.
(Reviewed by Kathy Pierson).
Full Review (1140 words).
The Serpent's Tale is set during a richly interesting time in English history
(approximately the same time period as Ken Follet's
The Pillars of the Earth and Ellis Peters's Cadfael novels, which
many may know best through the 1990s TV series starring Derek Jacobi). Through Adelia's
all-access pass to Henry II, readers hear tell of ongoing political intrigues
and scheming power plays. Threads of these histories can become tangled
quickly; so, a cursory overview of royal lineage and a simplified path of the
English crown may prove helpful in illuminating some the historical events that
form the backdrop to The Serpent's Tale.
A Plantagenet Primer
Henry II (1133-1189), the first Plantagenet* king, was born and ...
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