What do you get when you combine 12th century British history and CSI? You get Ariana Franklin's series about Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar! Mistress of the Art of Death is the first book in the series, though I read the second book, The Serpent's Tale first. I'm just wacky like that sometimes!
I read a lot of mysteries. For a while, when I was a young single mother, that's all I read, because I got them for free from my own mother. As a result, it's pretty hard to find a plot twist that really surprises me. Usually I have figured out the answer long before the end. Not so with either of Franklin's books. As with The Serpent's Tale, I was pleasantly in the dark about whodunit, and that made the reveal so much more exciting!
But, while I appreciate Franklin's ability to surprise me, what I love most about her books is the way she uses Adelia and her scientific skepticism to explore the state of the world during the Crusades. Adelia finds 12th century England a barbarous place, where superstition rules over reason and the church uses fake miracles and old bones in reliquaries to control the population. The Church definitely comes in for scrutiny in this novel, but Franklin makes sure to show that it is the hypocrisy, superstition, and intolerance that Adelia finds wrong, not religious faith itself. Rowley's account of his time in the Holy Land brings a clarity to what it was like in that part of the world, with Jews and Christians and Muslims all vying for control of the same sacred location-and the resources available there! Franklin even makes a connection between the treatment of the Muslims in the Crusades with the rise of something new, called Islam, which seems to mirror something of our own time. This smart, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic mystery is also a smart, funny, tragic history lesson-and well worth the time to read it!
The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie
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