Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ariana Franklin, Mistress of the Art of Death series

Mistress of the Art of Death
The Serpent's Tale
Grave Goods

Have just read the three books in Ariana Franklin's "Mistress of the Art of Death" series; they are a lot of fun. The series takes place in the early 1100s in England. The main character, Adelia Aguilar, is a medical examiner of sorts--she went to school to learn to do autopsies and to be a medical doctor in Salerno, Italy, where women were seen as the intellectual equals of men. At the behest of Henry Plantagenet (King Henry II), Adelia is sent to England to help solve a murder, and as the series progresses, she ends up working on several cases. She has a companion, an Arab named Mansour, who is a eunuch. She becomes romantically involved with someone else in the course of the series, but I don't want to tell too much here so I won't mention who it is.

What I love about these books:
1. They feature a strong, well-rounded female character with both strengths and flaws. Adelia is passionate, smart, and bad-tempered; she tends to yell a lot and is frequently incensed by the backward habits of the English.
2. Henry II is a very interesting character; the author spends lots of time discussing how various reforms he introduced in England made things better for the common people.
3. The crimes are pretty horrifying and very interesting.
4. The books are feminist in nature--they point out (the many, many, oh god) instances of gender inequity both in the Catholic church and in English society in general in the 1100s. They also portray working class people as human and smart. The specific issues facing women of all classes are highlighted.

1. Henry II is lionized. I get that he was great, but this sometimes verges on hagiography.
2. Social issues arise with a vengeance in the pages of this series and perhaps sometimes feel anachronistic. Tally thus far includes: homophobia, racism, classism, rape.

But the downsides don't bother me a bit, to be honest. I am loving this series. I actually listened to the audiobooks: the first is done by Roslyn Landor; two and three are by Kate Reading. Both women are excellent readers, and the books were a lot of fun to listen to.

In conclusion, congrats to Roger Federer for his win at Roland Garros!


  1. Ooh--these sound great. If you own them, can I borrow?

  2. Mistress of the Art of Death is on eReader (and they are having a sale!) so I just downloaded it. I'll let you know what I think.