Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin (audio)

Book Description:
Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II, has died an agonizing death by poison-and the king's estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the prime suspect. Henry suspects that Rosamund's murder is probably the first move in Eleanor's long-simmering plot to overthrow him. If Eleanor is guilty, the result could be civil war. The king must once again summon Adelia Aguilar, mistress of the art of death, to uncover the truth.

Adelia is not happy to be called out of retirement. She has been living contentedly in the countryside, caring for her infant daughter, Allie. But Henry's summons cannot be ignored, and Adelia must again join forces with the king's trusted fixer, Rowley Picot, the Bishop of St. Albans, who is also her baby's father.

Adelia and Rowley travel to the murdered courtesan's home, in a tower within a walled labyrinth-a strange and sinister place from the outside, but far more so on the inside, where a bizarre and gruesome discovery awaits them. But Adelia's investigation is cut short by the appearance of Rosamund's rival: Queen Eleanor. Adelia, Rowley, and the other members of her small party are taken captive by Eleanor's henchmen and held in the nunnery of Godstow, where Eleanor is holed up for the winter with her band of mercenaries, awaiting the right moment to launch their rebellion.

Isolated and trapped inside the nunnery by the snow and cold, Adelia and Rowley watch as dead bodies begin piling up. Adelia knows that there may be more than one killer at work, and she must unveil their true identities before England is once again plunged into civil war . . .

Another clever medieval historical mystery involving mistress of the art of death, Adelia Aguilar, who, now a mother, still uses her doctoring skills and winds up investigating the poisoning of the lady Rosamund Clifford, King Henry II's mistress.

I was a bit taken aback at first, since a lot has happened since the first book in the series ended. Adelia is now a mother, and the father of her baby, Rowley has taken an oath of celibacy to be one of the King’s bishops! Huh? But, I kept telling myself, hah! He’ll never keep that oath! (I was right.) When the Lady Rosamund becomes ill from poisoned mushrooms, Rowley is dispatched to fetch Adelia by King Henry. She is an expert on poisons, death and forensic medicine. It is an awkward reunion for them, the first they’ve seen of each other since the baby’s birth. They remain at arm’s length, though Rowley, unabashedly, coddles and dotes over their baby, Allie, speaking “baby talk” to the infant as any proud papa would –priest or no!

Adelia reluctantly agrees to go with Rowley, she doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Upon arrival at the abbey where Rosamund lives, it’s apparent she is dead, only they find a macabre death scene. Rosamund the fair, is no longer so fair. In fact, she is fat. That’s a surprise. But the real kicker is, her body is sitting up at a desk, as if she died while writing, stiff with rigor mortis. In front of her are letters she had been writing to Queen Eleanor, expounding on how much Henry is in love with her and how one day she will be the rightful queen. Very odd. No sooner does Adelia begin to examine the dead body but Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry’s queen shows up herself! The whole scenario is very bizarre, and becomes even more so when Rosamund’s faithful housekeeper, Dame Dakers, tries to kill Eleanor of Aquitaine by jumping out from a hidden garderobe! Adelia prevents the murder, thus granting herself a bit of good will from the queen, though the rest of Eleanor’s followers have no love for Adelia, nor Rowley.

A full cast of characters enters onto the scene and it’s up to Adelia to figure out which one of them is behind the poisoning of Rosamund. Henry’s wily queen is the obvious mastermind behind the murder, but that’s too obvious for Adelia and Rowley. Rowley believes it’s someone else, who wants to make it look like Eleanor in order to start a Civil War between Eleanor’s followers and Henry’s. Eleanor has been under house arrest by Henry for several years and has just escaped from France to join forces with her eldest son, Prince Harry to overthrow Henry II. The time is ripe for rebellion and Adelia is smack dab in the middle of the snake pit of political intrigue and murder that surrounds Eleanor's retinue.

Who is the real culprit? In the dead of winter, Eleanor insists on taking everyone to Godstow, a nunnery. There they spend Christmas. At least Adelia is reunited with her baby, Allie and her friend and servant, Gyltha. Adelia begins her inquiries which puts her in even further danger from the real assassin and his employer. Plus, Allie’s life is threatened as well, which completely scares Adelia to death! The killer is warning her – don’t get too nosy! Meanwhile, Rowley has snuck off, faking his death in order to enlist the help of Henry II and his men. Can they make it to Godstow in time before the assassin responsible for Rosamund’s death - and the ensuing death of her maid – does away with Adelia as well?  The bigger and burning question is - does Rowley ever break his vow in this book? ;)

It’s a clever mystery and no matter how much I love them, I’m awful at figuring out who the real villain is in mysteries. I’m the worst at picking up clues and mannerisms, probably because I’m listening to this on audio, instead of reading it, so I do miss things while emptying the dishwasher and making dinner. To say the least, I was stumped again about who was the mastermind, though I did guess the assassin. Kate Reading was the narrator on audio and she did a great job, as always. Her accents are believable for the men as well as the women.

This is a really interesting and absorbing series and I recommend it. Modern forensics and medieval history combined in one detailed and, at times, suspenseful novel. All the characters have their own macabre and detailed character flaws that bring them to life. I hear the next one, Grave Goods, is even better, I’m eager to get to it now.



Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I'm a big fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine - I've read some of Sharon Kay Penman's stories about her and enjoyed them. Maybe I'll give this author a try. I find Eleanor's real life as compelling as any fictionalized version!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Julia, I'm a big fan of Eleanor too! So, it was a shock to read a book with a less than stellar description of her! I loved her in Penman's books and also in Chadwick The Greatest Knight. I too think she is fascinating!

Yvette said...

I loved this book as well, Julie. This is a series that just gets better and better. GRAVE GOODS and A MURDEROUS PROCESSION are superb! I don't know all that much about Eleanor of Aquitaine, except that she was a woman who knew how to hang onto power. Sometimes niceties just get in the way.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Yvette - I keep hearing the books get better - great to know and look forward to! You should check out Sharon Kay Penman's books on Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Time and Chance is my favorite of the trilogy.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I actually have a character named for Eleanor in one of my works - her father is/was a professor of European history, specializing in Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor was a woman far ahead of her time - and she was unusually gifted and intelligent.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Julia - I agree, extremely ahead of her time. Have your seen The Lion in Winter with Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor - excellent movie!

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Oh yes, love The Lion in Winter! I just think it's amazing that she was Queen of France and bore two daughters to the king - who sounds like a dork, then fell for Henry and ran off to Aquitaine - so he could kidnap her - the rest is history. She was one of the very few royal women to actually give birth to children who survived, not only did they survive, she survived childbirth. Her grandchildren, legit and otherwise, went on to marry throughout Europe. Plus she inherited Aquitaine outright - unheard of in those days!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Julia - not only that, she went off to the Crusades with the King as well - unheard of - with her whole huge retinue! Another thing about this book is how different the impression of Rosamund is compared to Penman's. As much as I disliked Rosamund in Time and Chance and Devil's Brood, you were sympathetic towards her, and she seemed nearly saintly, but here, albeit dead, you have no sympathy whatsoever for her. She appears unattractive, selfish, thoughtless and ignorant.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I never had any sympathy for Rosamund! Team Eleanor all the way! She stood up for herself - unlike future queens who had to shut up and look the other way while their husband and king dallied with their ladies in waiting.
Henry VIII said something nasty about that to Anne Boleyn. I hated him for it. Well, as a woman I hated him for a lot of things! I always found it interesting that Henry VII never took a mistress and was apparently quite devoted to his wife, and she to him, despite the fact that he killed her father.

Yvette said...

I have a bio of Eleanor of Aquitane which I've been meaning to read: ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE by Allison Weir. Bought it a while back and it's been sitting on my bedroom bookshelf waiting patiently (or not) for me to pick it up. I've just moved it to my active TBR pile. ;)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Yvette, I've heard VERY mixed things about Allison Weir and her research and her take on history. Read it with a grain of salt, or so I hear.

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