Mistress of the Art of Death #3: Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin

Read: 21 November, 2009

Two bodies have been found in Glastonbury, and King Henry II sends Adelia Aguilar to confirm that the two mysterious skeletons belong to King Arthur and his lady Guinevere. If Henry can prove once and for all that Arthur is nothing more than a pile of bones, it will crush the Celt rebellion for good.

But things are never quite so simple. What should have been just a short trip to identify some remains quickly turns into a life or death struggle for Adelia and her companions.

Grave Goods is another excellent addition to the Mistress of the Art of Death series. Adelia is still something of a Mary Sue, but the plot is so interesting that this is quickly forgotten.

Throughout the series, I’ve been particularly impressed with the portrayal of Henry II. It certainly isn’t one that I’d seen before.

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Mistress of the Art of Death #1: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Read: 12 June, 2009

Something evil has taken hold of Cambridge. A child’s body has been found mutilated, and now more children have gone missing. When the town finds an easy scapegoat in the local Jewish population, someone sends for a Master of the Art of Death, a sort of Medieval forensic examiner. What they end up getting is Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno, a Mistress of the Art of Death.

Adelia’s character borders on the Mary Sue from time to time and a far too great amount of ink is spilled on her various traits. She is, of course, not classically beautiful, but even this has become a standard Mary Sue designation. On the other hand, the story is interesting – so interesting that I nearly forgot how one-dimensional our main character is.

This is not a mystery in the Holmesian sense. We are not presented with all the facts while the detective works it out and then fingers the culprit. Rather, it follows the more standard line of suspense novels that merely construct themselves around a mystery – a mystery that solves itself when the culprit reveals himself to the detective. And so Adelia discovers where the culprit can be found and so he reveals himself. In my own clearly constructed vision of what a mystery should be, I see this as a failure. However, it does appear to be fairly standard in the genre and, at least, Adelia does use her skills as an examiner to some extent when figuring out where do find the baddy.

One thing I found quite interesting is the view of religion in the novel. Adelia is an Atheist. But somehow, Franklin manages not to make this seem anachronistic. Adelia is an ‘Old Atheist’ – she’s polite about it and she is, still, half-immersed in the religious worldview. Even so, here is a novel that presents Atheism explicitly and in a positive light, without attacking religion or religious authority (a prominent religious figure is Adelia’s good friend and supporter), and without making a big deal of it. It was refreshing to read!

Another aspect that I found very interesting is the resolution of the romantic sub-plot. Adelia does not simply marry her beau, sublimating herself and her career. Rather, she simply decides to indulge in her love and her sexual desires in a way that allows her to preserve her independence. Again, it was refreshing to read, as it isn’t often that women are allowed a happy ending that is not marriage and loss of self.

Overall, Mistress of the Art of Death is an interesting and fast-paced read. While characterization may not be Franklin’s strength, she does manage to distract the reader with and interesting setting, a suspenseful plot, and lots (and lots and lots) of ichy gore.

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Mistress of the Art of Death #2: The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin

Read: 7 July, 2009

In Serpent’s Tale, we find that Henry II’s mistress has died. Naturally Adelia, who now has a baby in tow, is called to solve the mystery.

In many ways, Serpent’s Tale is an improvement over Mistress of the Art of Death. The plot is more of a mystery in the detective sense and Adelia does, actually, solve it and finger the culprit. There is also considerably less Mary Suism. The addition of the baby raises the stakes for Adelia, making the novel more suspenseful.

In addition, Serpent’s Tale kept many of the good bits of its predecessor. There is still the interesting view of Henry II and the low key but definitely present feminism. Overall, this novel is a very interesting read.

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