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:

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

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kathy Pierson

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

But his parents regarded the ceremony as vital, if only to ensure the boy a Christian burial should the worst happen. Master Reed had been about to send for the shabby, peripatetic priest who served the area.

The Reed family watched in silence as bejewelled fingers wetted their son's forehead and a voice as velvety-rich as its owner's vestments welcomed him into the faith, promising him life eternal and pronouncing him "Geoffrey in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen."

"Fen people never say thank you," Adelia apologized, as, carrying her baby, she joined the prior in his barge, the dog called Ward scrambling in with her, leaving Mansur to follow in their rowing boat. "But they never forget, either. They were grateful but amazed. You were too much for them, as if archangel Gabriel had come down in a shaft of gold."

"Non angeli, sed angli, I fear," Prior Geoffrey said, and such was his fondness for Adelia that he, who had lived in Cambridgeshire for thirty years, remained complacent at being instructed in the ways of the fens by this woman from southern Italy.

Look at her, he thought, dressed like a scarecrow, accompanied by a dog that will necessitate fumigation of the bench it sits on, the finest mind of her generation hugging her bastard for joy at having delivered a brat into a hovel.

Not for the first time, he wondered about her parentage, of which she was as ignorant as he. Brought up by a Salernitan couple, a Jew and his Christian wife, who'd found her abandoned among the stones of Vesuvius, her hair was the dark blond sometimes seen on Greeks or Florentines. Not that anybody could see it at the moment, hidden in that unspeakable cap.

She is still the oddity she was when we first met on the road to Cambridge, Prior Geoffrey thought. I returning from the pilgrimage to Canterbury, she in a cart, accompanied by an Arab and a Jew. I put her down as their trull, not recognizing the virginity of a scholar. Yet when I began to bawl in pain—Lord, how I bawled, and Lord, what pain it was—despite all my company of Christians, only she played the Samaritan. In saving my life that day she reduced me, me, to stammering adolescence by manipulating my most intimate parts as if they were mere tripes to be cooked. And still I find her beautiful.

She had been obeying a summons even then, brought from her work with the dead of Salerno to be part of a team in disguise led by the investigating Jew, Simon of Naples, to find out who was killing Cambridge's children—a matter that seriously bothered the King of England because it was leading to riot and, therefore, a depletion of his taxes.

This being England and not freethinking Salerno, it had been necessary for Mansur, Adelia's servant, to set up as the doctor, with Adelia herself pretending to be his assistant during their investigation. Poor, good Simon—even though a Jew, the prior remembered him in his prayers—had been murdered in his search for the killer, and Adelia herself had nearly lost her life, but the case had been resolved, justice imposed, and the king's taxes restored to his treasury.

In fact, so useful had been Adelia's forensic skill in the matter that King Henry had refused to let her return to Italy in case he should need her again. A miserly and greedy ingratitude typical of kings, Prior Geoffrey thought, even while he rejoiced that it had made the woman his neighbor.

How much does she resent this exile? It wasn't as if she'd been rewarded. The king had done nothing—well, he'd been abroad— when Cambridge's doctors, jealous of a successful interloper, had driven her and Mansur out of town and into the wilderness of the fens.

Sick and suffering men and women had followed them, and still did, not caring if treatment was at the hands of foreign unbelievers but only that it made them well.

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!

One-Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Here I Am
    Here I Am
    by Jonathan Safran Foer
    With almost all the accoutrements of upper middle-class suburban life, Julia and Jacob Bloch fit the...
  • Book Jacket: Harmony
    by Carolyn Parkhurst
    In previous novels such as The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Carolyn Parkhurst has shown herself...
  • Book Jacket: Commonwealth
    by Ann Patchett
    Opening Ann Patchett's novel Commonwealth about two semi-functional mid-late 20th Century ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Darling Days
    by iO Tillett Wright

    A devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Tea Planter's Wife
    by Dinah Jefferies

    An utterly engrossing, compulsive page-turner set in 1920s Ceylon.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Circling the Sun
by Paula McLain

An intoxicatingly vivid portrait of colonial Kenya and its privileged inhabitants.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review


Word Play

Solve this clue:

D C Y C Before T A H

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & 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.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.