January 6, 2009

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin

The Serpent’s Tale by Arianna Franklin is the second book in the Mistress of the Art of Death series set in Medieval England during the reign of King Henry I (Plantagenet). I am not providing details of the first book, Mistress of the Art of Death, or a summary of The Serpent’s Tale. In The Serpent’s Tale the author conveys more a sense of delight in telling a tale of murder than in Mistress of the Art of Death, which I felt more a sense of dread and doom throughout, plus the child murders being a very heavy subject it would have been difficult to impart lightness to it. I thought the second book in the series definitely had more elements of humor…I chuckled out loud many times throughout the book…I didn’t expect to do so. It has been quite awhile since I read Mistress of the Art of Death…sufficient length of time between its reading and The Serpent’s Tale to have no expectations for the second book’s story. I expected to enjoy it less after a few reviews I had read seemed to prefer the first book, but I found the second story more thrilling and engaging…probably due to less description of the injustices done to dead bodies and Adelia’s forensic methods. The first story dealt with child murders so the subject material was more difficult to read in the first place, plus The Serpent’s Tale was more humorous. The Serpent’s Tale is more straight mystery without much of the interwoven “romance” between Adelia and Rowley present in Mistress of the Art of Death, though we are still quite aware of their feelings toward each other. There were many nuances of thought and detail that added suspense and interest to the portrayal of Medieval England in this story. I appreciated rich descriptions of Godstow, the Thames, the tower, the winter climate; ideas of religion, forward thinking and feminism. Some might not appreciate that Adelia is now in this situation of having born a girl child out of wedlock and still having unresolved feelings for Rowley, now a Bishop, and employed in a profession such as hers. But I think the new plot element – Adelia having born a girl child (replacing Ulf in the first book) – is essential to balance the story, adding a softness to juxtapose the brutal nature of the murders Adelia investigates, and even Adelia herself, who struggles to balance the more analytical, unemotional facets of her personality, with emotional desires of home and love. The book’s title is The Serpent’s Tale, ergo there must be a serpent…I guessed the identity of the murderer on page 272, only about 60 pages before the murderer is actually revealed. I’m amazed I reasoned it out, as there were a lot of oddball twists and turns as roadblocks, but there are a few clues pointing you in the right direction. The Serpent’s Tale has a really good suspenseful plot and then a great reveal and explanation. Arianna Franklin definitely left some loose ends that can be used in future stories…Will the “Serpent” return?...Does Adelia go back to her homeland?...What will happen with Rowley? For the last question King Henry tells Adelia that she will “Never be safe”. Trying not to give away too much of the plot here but King Henry’s statement allows for more interaction between Rowley and Adelia in the future. Only a couple of things annoyed me. First that there was not a map of the area at the beginning of the book like there was in Mistress of the Art of Death. Second, the way Arianna Franklin treats the intimacy between Adelia and Rowley when he is waiting for her in her room at Godstow. I think the description was just too metaphorical…it surprised me and seemed so unnecessary when a more straightforward wording would have been better. Why must need cover up the physical affirmation of their feelings in all the mumbo jumbo? Anyways, this was only one very short paragraph in an otherwise superb story. The author has hit her stride and I am very much looking forward to the third book, Grave Goods, due to be released in trade paperback February 3rd. My Rating: 4.5 Chapters

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