REVIEW: Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin
Note: Risk of spoilers for the series.
Dear Ms. Franklin,
Those who have fallen under the spell of Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, the "Mistress of the Art of Death," will get all excited over book three of this historical mystery series. I know I squeed with glee when my copy arrived. God bless the US Postal Service and your publisher for making sure it arrived safely. As a fan girl of long standing, it was both a treat and a temptation. Something to be anticipated and savored. It did not disappoint.
Adelia and her forensic skills, gained at the University of Salerno, the only place where lowly women are educated suchly, have been called upon for a third time by the king. After a battle to put down a Welsh rebellion, Henry learns of a vision. A bard, who won’t stop singing, tells, after a degree of – shall we say – persuasion, of a sight witnessed by his uncle a monk, of a burial in Glastonbury Abbey twenty years ago. At Henry’s orders, the current monks dig deep and discover a coffin in which are the bones of two people, one very tall and one very short. What Henry wants from Adelia is proof that these are the bones of Arthur and Guinevere.
Why is the King of England so determined to obtain this proof? So that he can exhibit the skeletons and prove to these damn Welsh, and any other damn uppity Celts, that no legendary dead King is going to rise from the grave and lead them to victory, that’s why. And if he can have fun throwing Adelia and Rowley Picot, bishop of St. Albans, into close proximity while the proof is obtained, so much the better. Henry does have an evil sense of humor.
So once again you have Henry demand an almost impossible outcome from Adelia. And, as you and history have shown us, Henry isn’t a man to be crossed or pissed off lightly. Adelia makes sure he realizes that his proof will be impossible to obtain then, in her single minded way, heads off to see if she can do it anyway. As Henry says, “you can detect a puzzle like a hound sniffing the scent of a boar – and solve it. I’ve seen you do it. You’re a tracker.”
As with the first two books in the series, Adelia’s skills and knowledge have to be camouflaged from those who would kill her or brand her a witch for breaking church law. She will suffer because of her love for a man she rejected in order to save her independence, all while watching him suffer for wanting her, suffer when she’s in danger and have to put on a public show that he, a bishop, isn’t in love with her nor that he fathered their child.
The law and the Church, two of the things for which Henry II is remembered, play vital roles as the story unfolds. 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 Henry was attempting to replace, and a trial with assizes and writs, the new form of justice which would eventually revolutionize English law.
The old Anglo-Saxon practice of “frankpledging” brings more common men into the story as Adelia aids a group in proving that one of their own didn’t commit a crime in return for their assistance in discovering what happened to several of the characters. There are lepers and laymen, dowagers and clerks, soldiers and outlaws, sighthounds and even a pig.
Glytha tells it like it is, Mansur tells it to cover for Adelia, Rhys won’t stop singing and Allie shows signs of following in the footsteps of her investigating mother. Even if Allie’s main interest now is animals.
I wish that Adelia had been given more of a chance to display her knowledge of forensics beyond the sets of skeletons but will admit that the way she proved Eustace’s innocence was cool – if painful to think about. She seems to be shifting more towards being a CSI rather than a forensic pathologist. But I agree with Henry that once she’s onto something, she won’t let go it til she’s satisfied she has the answer. What is done with her answers might not be what she desires but Henry can count on her never to lie to him.
From the way this book ends, I’m cautiously optimistic that we haven’t read the last of Adelia yet. There’s a criminal still on the loose, a King who knows the value of his Mistress of the Art of Death and – better still – how to avoid paying her any cold, hard cash, plus a romantic relationship that still needs hashing out. I’m not satisfied that Adelia and Rowley have determined to best way to proceed but I’m eagerly waiting to find out what they do. B+
I’m drooling. I hadn’t heard a word about this series and am eager to dive right in; it sounds wonderful! Thank you so much for introducing me to this author.
Claudia, she also writes (though not lately) under the name Diana Norman. I’ve reviewed several of those books here as well. She’s a treat under either name.
I still haven’t gotten around to the second in this series, The Serpent’s Tale, but I loved (loved!) the first one. Must have recommended it to half a dozen friends in RL. One friend went out and bought it, loved it, and then bought me my own copy (I had the library copy). It’s good to see that that series still remains engaging. (I haven’t even read your review, just incase there were spoilers; just checked out the grade).
Now that’s a great RL friend to have!
The main risk of spoilers is to those who haven’t read the first book yet. Since you already know how that came out, I think you’re safe to read the review.
Great review Jayne! I soooo love this series…its unique. I liked TST just as much as MTAD and I can’t wait to read Grave Goods. Its definitely very high up on my TBR list. I don’t mind the loose ends Franklin leaves…it certainly makes you look forward to the next book!
I don’t mind them at all, provided that the next book actually gets written and published. What I hate is when the reader is left dangling because – for whatever reason – the book never reaches us and we can’t find out what happens next. That’s when I tear my hair out.
I like this author in both her Diana Norman and Ariana Franklin modes. City of Shadows is set in Berlin between the two world wars, but in a way it’s got some of the same feel as her Adelia books: compelling heroine, excellent sense of time and place, and good balance between the mystery and the love story (although readers should be aware that these aren’t Romances, so the focus is definitely not on the relationship).
One of the times I’ve been very glad I live in Washington DC occurred when I wanted to read her Fitzempress Law. Used copies sold for $150 and up, a price I wasn’t willing to pay, but a copy was available at the Library of Congress (they really do have everything), and I read it for free. Fitzempress is Henry II — Norman clearly finds him fascinating as a man both of and ahead of his time.
I can’t wait to read this. I loved Mistress of the Art of Death, but The Serpent’s Tale was a bit of a letdown. For some reason, everything I have heard about Grave Goods makes me think that it’s going to be up with MotAoD. I’m looking forward to finding out if my guess is right.
Thanks for the great review.
I totally agree with this statement. And he has been one of my favorite characters in all the MTAD series. I was so glad to see even more of him in “Grave Goods” than we saw in TST.
I would rank them as
Thanks so much for your reviews of this series. I never would’ve found it otherwise.
I read Mistress of the Art of Death recently and thought it was excellent; easily the best book I’ve read in the last year. I was a huge Ellis Peters fan in my teens and in many ways Mistress felt like Brother Cadfael for grown-ups. I’d give it an A on your grading scale, marked down only because I felt something that that would’ve provided Adelia with a true moral dilemma near the end of the book was avoided in a way that didn’t ring true. Otherwise, a great read.
Glad to hear the series is keeping up in quality. I can’t wait to read the next two books.
I just purchased my copy of Grave Goods and cannot wait to read it! I read (gobbled up) and loved the other two books in this series. I also HIGHLY recommend the Makepiece Burke series (A Catch of Consequence, Taking Liberties, Sparks Fly Upward) as it is as well crafted as her other books. I am so glad I found this author and hope she continues to spoil us with great historical fiction!
I’m waiting for audible.com to pick it up. The first one was narrated by Rosalyn Landor who did a fantastic job. Kate Reading also did a good job on the second one and the CD version of Grave Goods is read by Kate Reading also. She has an unfortunate name for sentences like the last one.
Been meaning to come back here after reading this book last week.
Agree with this wholeheartedly. I was like what? Oh, no! But, like you said, we’ll see. I thought she tackled a lot in here and I’m sure Adelia will be back.
@Keishon I’m happy that they’ve decided to be together but…but… Like you said, “oh noes.” And with that villain still hanging around loose, there has got to be a 4th book.
I am so glad to have found this series. I just finished Grave Goods and I already checked “A Murderous Procession” out of the library to start tomorrow. Did they ever make clear in Grave Goods who the villain at the end really is? I throughly enjoyed the book but I’m afraid I missed something. :( So glad to have found this site!
@Jen: Yes, it becomes clear during “A Murderous Procession” who the villain is.
Bad news though: Ms. Norman passed away at the end of January and though she had a book about 80% finished – which will be finished by her daughter – it isn’t a part of this series. So unless her daughter, who worked closely with her as a researcher, decides to keep the series going, “A Murderous Procession” is it.