REVIEW: Death and the Maiden by Samantha Norman, Ariana Franklin
England. 1191. After the death of her friend and patron, King Henry II, Adelia Aguilar, England’s vaunted Mistress of the Art of Death, is living comfortably in retirement and training her daughter, Allie, to carry on her craft—sharing the practical knowledge of anatomy, forensics, and sleuthing that catches murderers. Allie is already a skilled healer, with a particular gift for treating animals. But the young woman is nearly twenty, and her father, Rowley, Bishop of Saint Albans, and his patron, the formidable Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, have plans to marry Allie to an influential husband . . . if they can find a man who will appreciate a woman with such unusual gifts.
When a friend in Cambridgeshire falls ill, Allie is sent to Ely, where her path will cross with Lord Peverill, a young aristocrat who would be a most suitable match for the young healer. But when Allie arrives, all is chaos. A village girl has disappeared—and she’s not the first. Over the past few months, several girls from the villages surrounding Ely have vanished. When the body of one of the missing is discovered, Allie manages to examine the remains before burial. The results lead her to suspect that a monstrous predator is on the loose. Will her training and her stubborn pursuit of the truth help her find the killer . . . or make her the next victim?
A richly detailed, twisty thriller, Death and the Maiden is historical mystery at its finest—and a superb final episode in Ariana Franklin’s much-loved, much-acclaimed series.
TW – a character is described as having been raped
Dear Ms. Norman,
To begin, may I say thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking up the mantle and finishing not only The Siege Winter but also linking that to and writing the final book in the “Mistress of the Art of Death series. Well done, you.
At first I was concerned that you decided to write a next gen story instead of picking up right where “A Murderous Procession” ended with cliffhangers and “Oh noes, what will happen next?” threads left loose but it worked very well for me. Fifteen years have passed, Allie has grown up, Adelia and Rowley have grown older, Henry II has died, Richard I has left his kingdom to take up the cross, and a killer is loose in the Fens. Of course he preys on young women; they all seem to prey on young women.
Lady Penda has arrived at Wolvercote Manor, seeking Adelia to save Glytha who was so important in helping bring up Allie and so beloved of Mansur. Nothing would stop Adelia from helping her old friend except for a broken ankle. Of course Allie must go and put to use the medical skills her mother has taught her. Rowley and Penda hope that Allie will meet and like a possible marriage prospect but Adelia frets about her independent and intelligent daughter being penned into a life for which she might not be suited.
Upon arriving, Allie quickly puts medicine up against tying the bones of the blessed St. Eltheldreda to sick Glytha. Medicine wins. Having saved her beloved childhood nurse and reveling in the freedom she’s found, Allie isn’t looking to return home anytime soon. She also finds a friend in Hawise, a young village woman. But when the second body is found floating down the river, Allie calls on the investigative skills learned from Adelia who was the Mistress of the Art of Death – giving voice and justice to those who can’t speak anymore. But will Allie’s efforts catch a killer or put her in his sights?
It was delightful to see so many old character friends again. Unfortunately a few have died and one has taken the cross but most are still around even if only for brief scenes. As this book is intended to wrap up the series, the little recap snippets here and there help and were appreciated. Yet since the previous one ended with so many questions, I had hoped for a few more answers. What happened to Adelia’s adopted parents? How did they all make the perilous journey back to England with Rowley so gravely wounded? What have Adelia and Allie been doing in the intervening years?
I liked Allie. She’s smart, she’s independent, she’s desperate to use her medical skills though aware that she must be cautious as her mother was in order to sidestep any whispers of magic. Alas with Mansur now dead, there is no one to act as Adelia’s medical “beard” anymore nor will there be much protection for Allie once her powerful father is no longer there. As a father, Rowley worries and agonizes over what will happen to her in the years to come. A good marriage will give Allie security and keep her from being the king’s pawn to marry off as he wills.
In Lady Penda, Allie finds an intriguing woman who runs her own life, on her own terms, and who has – shockingly – never been married at all. Allie knows there is something in Penda’s past that is being kept hidden, something that happened during the Anarchy when Stephen’s and Matilda’s armies slogged across England and God and his saints slept. The little scenes of Rowley trying to aid in aborting another civil war due to the actions of Bishop Longchamps as well as Prince John’s ambitions could have taken a larger role in the story but I appreciate the view of how the actions of the great are once again causing grief and fear among the little people. Since Henry II isn’t there to chew on scenery, his widowed Queen stands in nicely as she shows that she still has her finger on the pulse of power.
Most of the story though is taken up by the horrific threat hanging over the heads of the young women of the area and Allie fighting her boredom. As I said, I like Allie, she bravely takes a major role in helping catch the killer but she’s not her mother. She has a bit more growing up to do which maybe the events of the story help her do. One character I did like is the last young woman who is kidnapped who, through her own efforts, staves off death and then points the finger and gains closure.
The opportunity to catch up on these characters is what brought me here. The historic feel of the story, the Fens of Cambridgeshire – almost a character in and of themselves – and watching a young woman be brave in the face of death – almost like Scheherazade – are what kept me here. That being said, I do wish that Allie had been given more actual investigation and sleuthing and a bit less time sighing about how bored she was. B