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REVIEW: The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin

Dear Ms. Franklin,

serpents-tale.jpgLast year we were introduced to Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, the “Mistress of the Art of Death.” Brought from Salerno to help solve a brutal series of murders, she proved so helpful that Henry II, exercising his royal right to run things whatever way he damn well wants, decided to keep her in England in case he might need her skills again.

It’s taken 18 months but now Henry’s snapping his royal fingers in the form of one Bishop of Saint Albans, aka Adelia’s former lover and father of her bastard child. Henry’s beloved mistress Rosamund the Fair has been poisoned — oops no, make that killed, and the blame is being flung straight at his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who recently escaped from a palace prison in Henry’s French holdings and is headed back across the channel. Henry and Eleanor have their marital problems, Henry and his sons have their filial problems and if Adelia can’t figure out who really did Rosamund in, and Henry punishes Eleanor leading their sons to rebel against him, England will have Civil War problems. Again. And no one wants that.

As with all of your books, I’m immediately placed in whatever time period you’ve chosen to use. This time it’s England during the twelfth century about a generation after one of the worst Civil Wars on record. Henry II, son of Queen Matilda who fought it out with King Stephen, brought peace back to the island and his vision of what the country can be is mainly hampered by the Church which still hasn’t forgiven him for attempting to curtail its power. Henry’s appointee to the Bishopric of Saint Albans is Rowley Picot who has a long history with both Henry and Eleanor. He’s mainly Henry’s man though that didn’t stop him from being willing to become a Baron instead of a bishop so that he could marry the woman he loves.

It was Adelia who knew that marriage would end her career as a doctor and who extracted a promise from Rowley to leave her and not contact her, even after their daughter was born. The fact that these two aren’t together saddens me and yet I can understand Adelia’s decision. Forensic pathology isn’t just misunderstood in England, it’s against Church law and Adelia could be killed for her investigations. As you show us, pathology isn’t just something Adelia does, it’s what she is and she can no more give it up than stop breathing.

She also knows that the Church is trying to find a way to remove Rowley from his position and the knowledge that he’s fathered a child, despite the fact that he’s far from the only Church official who’s done so, is a perfect way to do that. I can also understand that her anger at the situation finds an outlet against Henry in general and Rowley in particular. And that she’s reluctant to leave her safe haven in the Fenland and once again risk exposure for what she does. It’s not just her life at stake anymore, now she’s got a child to consider and as any mother knows her child’s welfare and safety come first. What she can’t turn away from are the horrible images presented to her in plain English by the people she loves who survived the wars just past: of family dead, of sisters raped, of fathers conscripted, of villages burned to the ground. Royalty and the nobility might bay for war but it’s the little people who suffer.

I’m glad that we get to see a little more of Henry in this story than the previous one. What a man. It’s easy to see how his subjects both loved and feared him and probably at the same time. He’s definitely not a person to take lightly. Eleanor, as you show, is almost a match for him and absolutely a match for almost anyone else in England at the time. I can almost see the reunion scene between Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn – wait, I mean Henry and Eleanor. After twenty years of marriage to her I could also see why he’d turned to unassuming and politically undemanding women for some peace and quiet. I love his last comments to Adelia and his pointing out the loophole in Rowley’s oath. Obviously there’s to be more from this trio and I can’t wait for it.

I did wonder why you gave away the information during the initial meeting between the assassin and the client. It makes sense given the events of the previous book and the political scene in England at the time. I had guessed that the assassin would have to be among a certain group of people but still like the way you lay out clues without one turning into a blinking arrow pointed straight at anyone. And the clues are there from the beginning to be picked up, turned about and fit into place with no, “where did that come from?” moments.

My heart ached for Emma. Poor, poor Emma and all women of then and now who were mere objects for men to use as pawns and for pleasure. I felt not a bit bad as I savored her enjoyment of her freedom. I would almost dislike Rowley for turning away from Adelia except that she demanded it and that he told her in such unadorned words how much she still means to him. I found it much easier to believe what he said than any fancy courtly love terms and it’s much more in keeping with his personality – eschewing such fancy things as he did.

Poor Adelia doesn’t really get to do a full autopsy on anyone in this book but her detective skills both with and without bodies is key to solving the many mysteries. I noticed that it’s most often the women in the story who pick up on exactly what she is. The men might be told, might actually even see her working and yet they quickly turn, almost desperately, to Mansur to be the actual doctor.

Once again I felt I was in not-so-merrie-olde England, this time stuck in a convent during a bitterly cold winter with the dark lit only by puny candles and single lanterns. I can see the dark as the troubles looming if the deaths aren’t solved and that Adelia and Henry are the candles. It’s amazing they don’t set each other off like firecrackers. I can only hope you’ve got more stories left to tell about all of these characters and that you tell them quickly. B+

~Jayne

available in ebook or hardback

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

23 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 16:30:37

    She sure has made Henry II a dashing hero in medieval England for me and like you, I can’t wait for the next Adelia Aguilar/Rowley/Henry II book. Her stories evoke a sense of curiosity about the time period to make me go off and read more on my own. Excellent author, one who can make me overlook flaws.

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  2. Aoife
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 17:44:44

    I finished this book a week ago, and can’t decide whether my irritation with the Adelia/Rowley situation outweighs my enjoyment of the rest of the book. I assigned a grade in the B-range, but two things niggled at me. One was the on-again/off-again nature of the Adelia and Rowley relationship–how many books is that going to be dragged out over, when we know it can never, never have a HEA? I actually would be fine with there not being a HEA, it’s the wavering back and forth that annoys me. The other thing I noticed is

    S
    P
    O
    I
    L
    E
    R

    that I hope that the role of bad guy is not going to be assigned to a religious in every book. It makes for a nice contrast with the intellectual, as embodied by Adelia, but I guessed who the baddie was from the minute he appeared.

    End spoilers

    But I realize I am being very nit-picky. I loved Mistress of the Art of Death so much that it would have been hard for The Serpent’s Tale to measure up, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in this series.

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  3. keishon
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 18:02:02

    I guessed the bad guy too but I was still surprised. I really don’t think Rowley and adelia’s relationship should warrant such close scrutiny since this is a historical fiction and not romance. If you are familiar with her work, you’ll notice that the romantic relationships are hardly the focus and doesn’t conform to the HEA formula.

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  4. Jayne
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 18:12:08

    I guessed one of the bad guys – remember there were two – and as my spoiler indicates I did wonder why so much about one of them was revealed so early.

    Aoife – I also wonder if there isn’t some way ‘out’ for Rowley and Adelia as Henry pointed out the loophole in Rowley’s pledge. I recall that the church was somewhat more flexible in those days than was later the case so maybe….but then there’re Rowley’s thoughts on what Adelia does even as he makes use of her skills so on the other hand…who knows.

    Keishon has gotten word from Mrs. Norman that she’s already finished the next book though it looks like we’ll have to wait a while for it.

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  5. Jayne
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 18:15:30

    If you are familiar with her work, you’ll notice that the romantic relationships are hardly the focus and doesn’t conform to the HEA formula.

    Yes but in most of her other books (or the ones I’ve read so far) the book always ends with a couple togther even if the emphasis of the book wasn’t on their romantic relationship. So knowing how much these two love each other and seeing them apart is hard. And you know I’m sorta yanking your crank!

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  6. Aoife
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 18:18:17

    I am familiar with the author’s work under both her names, and am not at all confused that Ariana Franklin writes romance, although I would characterize the Adelia Aguilar books as being more historical mystery than anything else. Personally, I would be perfectly happy if the Rowley connection disappeared from the books, and the focus remained on Adelia, who I find to be an interesting character, and one who doesn’t need a relationship with a man to make her so.

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  7. Keishon
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 18:41:32

    Personally, I would be perfectly happy if the Rowley connection disappeared from the books, and the focus remained on Adelia, who I find to be an interesting character, and one who doesn't need a relationship with a man to make her so.

    On that we are agreed.

    Yes but in most of her other books (or the ones I've read so far) the book always ends with a couple togther even if the emphasis of the book wasn't on their romantic relationship. So knowing how much these two love each other and seeing them apart is hard. And you know I'm sorta yanking your crank!

    Yes her books do end happily, thank goodness for that.

    You know who I really enjoyed in this book? The Abbot of Eynsham and I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers.

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  8. Rosina Lippi
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 20:56:45

    It’s my guess that Diana has set up the next book to be about Rowley’s increasingly difficult relationship with the church at least in part. In any case, I like Rowley as a character and I hope he sticks around. The love story part is a bonus, as I see it.

    Diana is at least thinking about a fourth book in the series. I hope she does write it.

    Also, I’m going to have a follow up interview with her late this week or early next.

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  9. Marg
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 02:52:05

    Can’t wait to read the follow up interview Rosina!

    This STILL hasn’t hit the bookshelves here. I am very impatient I can tell you! The other thing is that it is being published under the title The Death Mask. I have no idea which title fits the story best, but regardless, I really hate it when books are published under different titles in different places.

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  10. DS
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 07:45:04

    I hope this shows up on Audible.com. I really liked the reader of the first one and I have some traveling coming up that would be perfect for this one.

    Amazon just bought Audible so I hope this means a better selection.

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  11. Jayne
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 07:53:11

    Rosina, I enjoyed your first interview with her and am looking forward to the follow up. Thanks for letting us know.

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  12. Jayne
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 07:54:52

    Marg, it is out in ebook form. Can you get that in Australia or do you prefer the paper variety? I’m not sure I like that other title either but as you say it has about as much to do with the story as “The Serpent’s Tale” does, IMO.

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  13. Jayne
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 07:56:21

    DS, how long would it take to listen to a book of this length? And who was the reader of “Mistress?” Just curious as I’ve never listened to an audible book before.

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  14. Belinda
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 08:43:01

    Mistress was 11 CDs, so (roughly) 12-13 hours of driving, laundry folding, walking the dog, etc. (I can’t say for sure because I found the anachronisms so jarring I couldn’t finish it. I keep seeing people talking about Franklin’s wonderful sense of history and I honestly don’t get it.) The narrator was Rosalyn Landor, she was very good. She also reads the Karleen Koen books. I think her voice fits period stuff better than the Jane Green books she also reads, but maybe that’s just because that’s how I became accustomed to her voice.

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  15. sandy l
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 09:00:23

    I read this book last week and really enjoyed it. It is not a romance, but really historical mystery (or fiction). I imagine that we will see the relationship between Rowley and Adelia develop as the story continue.

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  16. Keishon
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 09:55:48

    I found the anachronisms so jarring I couldn't finish it. I keep seeing people talking about Franklin's wonderful sense of history and I honestly don't get it.)

    There’s never universal agreement on anything, otherwise, we’d be bored. Can you cite some examples Belinda? Ms. Franklin does do author notes where she admits to tweaking facts and such in her historical mysteries for plotting purposes. Sorry to hear you find her work jarring.

    I will watch out for that interview as well!

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  17. Leah
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 10:23:28

    Thanks so much for recommending this series, Jayne! I read Mistress of the Art of Death last week, loved it, and now I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.

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  18. Belinda
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 12:08:43

    Can you cite some examples

    It’s not even plot, I can deal with a bit of historical shifting to accommodate that (particularly when the author actually knows she’s doing it!) I got stuck on things like “bloody” used as a curse about 500 years too soon, words like “professional” and “cosmopolitan” which are ridiculously modern concepts to pass for 12th century conversation, walls lined with books a couple of centuries before Gutenberg – quite honestly I didn’t get very far. I gave up at “Cambridge is very cosmopolitan.” Hadn’t had enough chocolate that week, I suppose.

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  19. Aoife
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 12:26:26

    I got stuck on things like “bloody” used as a curse about 500 years too soon, words like “professional” and “cosmopolitan” which are ridiculously modern concepts to pass for 12th century conversation, walls lined with books a couple of centuries before Gutenberg – quite honestly I didn't get very far. I gave up at “Cambridge is very cosmopolitan.” Hadn't had enough chocolate that week, I suppose.

    Is there such a thing as enough chocolate?

    I understand why those things bothered you. I noticed the “modern” tone of some of the the descriptions and language, and those are usually hot buttons for me. For some reason I totally bought in to them in Mistress of the Art of Death. Rather than anachronistic, it seemed to me as though those word choices, descriptive passages, etc. drew me in to the time period much more than the Ye Olde Englishe approach would have, because I didn’t feel as though the author used those words out of ignorance, but to translate the concept efficiently into a term we, as modern readers, would understand. Not sure if that makes sense, but it’s the best I can do on only 2 cups of tea.

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  20. Keishon
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 12:36:09

    Rather than anachronistic, it seemed to me as though those word choices, descriptive passages, etc. drew me in to the time period much more than the Ye Olde Englishe approach would have, because I didn't feel as though the author used those words out of ignorance, but to translate the concept efficiently into a term we, as modern readers, would understand. Not sure if that makes sense, but it's the best I can do on only 2 cups of tea

    I’m not a big fan of audio books let me state that up front but what Aoife just said is what Ms. Franklin actually mentions in her author’s note. She doesn’t do anything out of ignorance and that’s why I found the term anachronistic somewhat unfairly applied because Ms. Franklin tries to find some way to marry modern and medieval language together so that readers can enjoy the story better. But in the end, if she wasn’t successful in doing that for you, then she didn’t. I sound like her PR person or something but I’m not, far from it. I just really enjoy her work and hope she continues to be successful in writing for years to come. I hope maybe you’ll give her another try.

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  21. Marg
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 14:21:52

    Marg, it is out in ebook form. Can you get that in Australia or do you prefer the paper variety? I'm not sure I like that other title either but as you say it has about as much to do with the story as “The Serpent's Tale” does, IMO.

    Err…um…I haven’t made the jump towards e-books just yet Jayne. I think it is out at the end of this month, and then it will take a while to appear on the library shelves. As long as it does eventually I will be happy. In the meantime I keep on checking the catalogue to see if it has appeared yet. Every day isn’t too often is it?

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  22. REVIEW: Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Mar 19, 2009 @ 06:00:18

    [...] But in this book, I think the law truly shines in pride of place. Emma, poor Emma from “The Serpent’s Tale,” must employ it to secure her son’s inheritance. We see both a trial by combat, what [...]

  23. REVIEW: ‘The Serpent’s Tale’ (2008) by Ariana Franklin
    Jan 21, 2010 @ 07:02:29

    [...] Jayne at Dear Author – B+ [...]

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