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 by Ariana Franklin X
The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2008, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2009, 416 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kathy Pierson

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


"Mountains?" Gyltha had said once. "Don't hold with mountains. They buggers do get in the way."

Besides, this was now the homeland of the child in her arms, and therefore infinitely beloved.

But today, Adelia dared not indulge either her eyes or her mind for her baby's sake. There was another child to be saved, and be damned if she was going to let it die through her own ignorance. Or the mother, either.

Silently apologizing to the little thing in her arms, Adelia set herself to envisaging the corpses she'd dissected of mothers who'd died with their fetuses yet undelivered.

Such pitiable cadavers, yet when they were laid out on the marble table of the great autopsy hall in Salerno, she'd withheld compassion from them, as she'd learned to do with all the dead in order to serve them better. Emotion had no place in the art of dissection, only clear, trained, investigative reasoning.

Now, here, in a whiskery little hut on the edge of the civilized world, she did it again, blanking from her mind the suffering of the woman on the bed and replacing it with a map of interior organs, positions, pressures, displacements. "Hmm."

Hardly aware she was doing it, Adelia withdrew her baby from her left, now empty, breast and transferred it to the other, still calculating stresses on brain and navel cord, why and when suffocation occurred, blood loss, putrefaction . . . "Hmm."

"Here, missis. Summat's coming." The daughter was guiding her mother's hands toward the bridle that had been tied to the bed head.

Adelia laid her child back in its basket, covered herself up, and went to the bottom of the bed.

Something was indeed emerging from the mother's body, but it wasn't a baby's head, it was a baby's backside.

Goddamn. A breech birth. She'd suspected it but, by the time she'd been brought in, engagement in the uterus had taken place and it was too late to insert her hand and revolve the fetus, even if she'd had the knowledge and daring.

"Ain't you going to tug it out?" the daughter asked.

"Not yet." She'd seen the irreparable damage caused by pulling at this stage. Instead, she addressed the mother. "Now you push. Whether you want to or not, push."

Mistress Reed nodded, put part of the bridle in her mouth, clamped her teeth on it, and began pushing. Adelia gestured to the girl to help her drag the mother's body farther down the bed so that her buttocks hung over the edge and gravity could play its part.

"Hold her legs straight. By the ankles, behind me, behind me, that's right. Well done, mistress. Keep pushing." She herself was on her knees, a good position for delivering—and praying.

Help us, Lord.

Even so, she waited until a navel appeared with its attached cord. She touched the cord gently—a strong pulse. Good, good.

Now for it.

Moving quickly but with care, she entered her hand into the mother's cavity and released one leg, then the other, flexing the tiny knees.

"Push. Push, will you."

Oh, beautiful, sliding out by themselves without having to be pulled were two arms and a torso up to the nape of the neck. Supporting the body with one hand, Adelia laid the other on the little back and felt the tremor of a pulse.

Crucial now. Only minutes before suffocation set in. God, whichever god you are, be with us now.

He wasn't. Mistress Reed had lost strength, and the baby's head was still inside. "Pass over that pack, that pack." In seconds, Adelia had extracted her dissection knife, always kept clean.

"Now." She placed the daughter's hand on Mistress Reed's pubic region. "Press." Still supporting the little torso, she made a cut in the mother's perineum. There was a slither and, because the knife was still in her fingers, she had to catch the baby in the crook of her elbows.

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!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Word Is Murder
    The Word Is Murder
    by Anthony Horowitz
    A wealthy widow enters a London funeral home to make arrangements for her own funeral. Six hours ...
  • Book Jacket: Call Me American
    Call Me American
    by Abdi Nor Iftin
    As a boy growing up in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin loved watching action ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a Palestinian family caught between present and past.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Place for Us
    by Fatima Farheen Mirza

    A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If You See Me, Don't Say Hi

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi by Neel Patel

Patel's stories introduce a bold and timely new literary voice.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A P Saved I A P E

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

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

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.