Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Serpent's Tale

I loved the first book in this medieval murder mystery series, which features a woman doctor sent to England on the king's order to investigate the horrific deaths of young children in Cambridge. I was excited to read this, the second installment in the series, but I was also a little worried that it wouldn't live up to my admittedly high expectations. I needn't have worried - I loved it. Some minor spoilers may follow, as events at the end of the first book, Mistress of the Art of Death, impact the opening of the second book, so please read the review of the first book if you think you might be interested in this gripping historical mystery series.

Adelia, our heroine, misses her native Sicily dreadfully, but she is becoming attached to her new home in England. She is practicing medicine, really making a difference in the lives of the people around her, despite the fact that she must continue the charade that her servant Mansur is the doctor and she, a mere woman, his assistant. The best thing in her life, though, is her new baby daughter, and it is delightful to see how besotted the hard-as-nails forensic specialist is with the beautiful child. So much of her life prior to coming to England was on a purely intellectual level, and now Adelia is experiencing life in a visceral, physical way, revealing a more passionate, emotional side of her character.

She is summoned to investigate the murder of Rosamond, King Henry II's favorite mistress - she is to accompany Rowley Picot, the father of her child who is now the Bishop of St. Albans, which creates some interesting tension. Their journey is a dangerous one, and it leads them to a deadly maze with a tower in which Rosamond's body awaits, perhaps with clues that will lead Adelia to the identity of her murderer.

I have listened to both books in this series, and while this reader, Kate Reading, did a fine job, I preferred Rosalyn Landor's interpretation of the first book, which was marvelous. This is a taut story with a cast of fascinating characters, full of twists and turns and all kinds of intriguing details about medieval life. I love King Henry, his keen intellect and wry sense of humor, and I adore Adelia for her strength and intelligence, her fallibility and her passion. The setting is so vivid that I could feel 12th-century England lurking in the back of my mind while I went about my day, and I was always anxious to get back to the story to see what would happen next. There are four books in this series to date, and I look forward to continuing on with the third book - but not too soon. I plan to space them out a bit, so I won't run through them too quickly!

Books in the Mistress of the Art of Death series:
1. Mistress of the Art of Death
2. The Serpent's Tale
(also published as The Death Maze)
3. Grave Goods (also published as Relics of the Dead)
4. A Murderous Procession (also published as The Assassin's Prayer)

The Serpent's Tale (#2 in the Mistress of the Art of Death series) by Ariana Franklin; narrated by Kate Reading (Penguin Audiobooks, 2009)

Source: My local public library

Also reviewed at:
Bippity Boppity Book: "...Franklin produces several likely suspects for the murders which leaves you guessing who the culprit(s) were until the end. I like that I’m not able to figure out the ending half way through the book..."
The Good, the Bad and the Unread: "Great pacing, great writing, great dialogue, great plot, memorable characters - great read. I read this book non-stop all during my days off and then slowed it down to savor the last few pages."
Jen's Book Thoughts: "The turbulence of the time period, the amazingly intricate characters and an exotic setting all add up to an incredible novel"


  1. I am usually a big fan of this author, and I liked this book a lot. I am however currently read A Murderous Procession and not enjoying it as much as I normally do. I will keep reading the series though and hope that it is just an anomaly.

  2. You know i was thinking of reading this, the Mistress of Death series - following your recommendation, I think I will give it a go!

  3. Marg - Oh, no! It is so disappointing when that happens. Maybe things will improve. I'll be by when you write your review to see how things turn out.

    VA Gal - I'd love to hear your take on this series!

  4. I just read a review of the first one where the reviewer described it as a "medieval CSI" story which sounded odd but interesting!

  5. Ladytink - That is a good description! It's dark and gritty with vivid characters and historical detail. Very gripping, too. I hope you'll give it a try!

  6. I really have liked all of the first three books in this series. I read the second and third right on top of one another, though, so I felt like I was just picking up where the one left off. There are some changes in the third, yes, but I think she remains true to Adelia's character. I can't wait to read the fourth, but our library does not own it (bummer) and you cannot request a new book from another library until they have owned it for six months. Can't wait to see what you review next!

  7. Cheryl - I hope your library gets it - mine has it ordered, but it's not in yet. Glad to hear you continue to enjoy the series. I will wait a little while before I read the third, because I enjoy making a series last as long as I possibly can! :-)

  8. Sounds like a great series!

  9. Joanna - It really is! Hope you'll give it a try some time.


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