REVIEW: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (aka Diana Norman)
Dear Mrs. Franklin/Norman,
What can I say? I finished “Mistress of the Art of Death” late in the evening after reading non-stop for almost 200 pages. My heart was racing, I was glued to the book and if a fire had started somewhere in my house, I honestly don’t think I would have noticed until I turned the last page. Then I would have grabbed my cat, my dog and my copies of your books before running for the door.
I closed the book and lay there, stunned and happy, as I tried to absorb the total story, the ending that wasn’t the end and the ending that was. The various characters who became real for me, the times in which I was immersed, the clues to the mystery that grabbed me from the start and as evil a villain as I ever hope roasts in hell for all eternity. The display of English Common Law had me wishing, as you implied, that Henry II were better known for more than ordering the death of Thomas a Becket because it should be his legacy to the English speaking peoples. And while this isn’t truly a romance book, readers will be rewarded with one between two complex and fascinating people.
It was delightful to again visit the people of the Fens, the true English as you described them in “The Morning Gift” and at times they are odd. They can also be fanatical, prejudiced, desperate, shrewd, vocally incomprehensible and stubborn. But they’re above all the parents, uncles, grandparents, siblings and friends of four murdered children who deserve justice.
And the person at the heart of the story, the one determined from the beginning to speak for the children who couldn’t speak anymore — and whose screams had mercifully ended — is Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, the mistress of the art of death sent from the University of Salerno at the order of the King of Sicily by request from his relative, the King of England. Used to being treated with some respect, or at least tolerated, in the only University in Europe that awarded degrees in medicine to women, Adelia has to walk a tightrope in England. Not only are women not allowed to practice medicine there, but any who try could be killed as witches. Church law also forbids exactly what Adelia does, dissection and examination of the dead. Add to this the fact that she’s a foreigner and in the company of a Jew and a Saracen and her mission looks hopeless.
Viewed with suspician or disdain by most, it takes a timely display of her medical knowledge to gain the trio the break they need to begin the investigation. Once started however, Adelia and Simon of Naples are relentless. Little by little, piece by piece, clue by clue they will see the mystery to the end. They will fight on when almost all hope is lost, they will persevere in the face of death and the evil that brings it, they will speak for the murdered children and work to clear those unjustly accused of the crimes.
As with many of your books, I stopped several times throughout reading it to head to the computer to broaden my knowledge of things you mentioned. In the story, we get just enough facts or information needed for a scene or plot point without it turning into an information dump just to prove your research. Yet the tantalizing references make me want to know more and draw me into the art of discovery. I can’t tell you how satisfying this is. And even though you needed to rearrange some things to fit into this story, you still managed to base them on historical facts and informed us in the author’s note.
I think that people with disparate interests will enjoy “Mistress of the Art of Death.” It’s a historical, a romance, a mystery, a medieval CSI and a fantastic book. A friend and I both admit that we treat your books like gold, hoarding them and then one by one allowing ourselves the pleasure of savoring them. This is a book that lots of readers should allow themselves the pleasure of trying. A