The Death Maze by Ariana Franklin

Normal service has been resumed – thankfully!! – I’m back to writing on this blog thanks to my son.

It seems quite a while since I finished reading Ariana Franklin’s The Death Maze (published as The Serpent’s Tale in the US), so these are just a few thoughts about the book.

Back in 2007 I’d really enjoyed her first book, Mistress of the Art of Death (which I wrote about here) and I was eager to read the next book about Adelia Aguilar, the 12th century anatomist employed by Henry II. But I was a bit put off by reports that The Death Maze was not as good, and other books grabbed my attention. Time passed, the third book came out – Relics of the Dead – and curiosity got the better of me so I bought both books, and eventually I got round to reading them – one after the other.

Yes, The Death Maze does not live up to the first book for me, but it’s still enjoyable. Rosamund Clifford, Henry II’s mistress has been poisoned, allegedly by Eleanor of Aquitane, Henry’s wife. Adelia is summoned to investigate her death. So, she sets off to Oxford, accompanied by her baby daughter, Allie, her servant Gyltha and the Saracen, Mansur, who has to pose as the doctor whilst Adelia pretends to be his assistant. Adelia was a graduate of the School of Medicine in Salerno, which, unlike England, allowed women to train as physicians; in England her forensic skills would have been considered witchcraft.

Rosamund had lived in a strange and sinister tower surrounded by a maze, constructed of walls of granite with blackthorn planted against them. So, the first problem Adelia had to solve was to find the way through the maze. She was then faced with the gruesome discovery of Rosamund’s dead body. The main thrust of the book centres on Eleanor’s moves to overthrow Henry II, and after Eleanor and her supporters capture Adelia, they take her to the nunnery at Godstow, where they wait snowbound for the right moment to launch their rebellion.

I think the book works well as historical fiction, even though as Ariana Franklin wrote in her Author’s Notes that there is only a brief reference to Rosamund Clifford in the historical records and so this is a fictional portrayal based on legend. And she inserted a fictional rebellion in England in a gap in the medieval records. It has whetted my appetite to know more about the period. But as crime fiction, I was rather disappointed because although I found the details of Rosamund’s death interesting, there was actually very little about Adelia’s investigation, very little for her to exercise her forsenic skills, which was one of the elements I’d enjoyed in Mistress of the Art of Death. 

This is my second book for Carl’s  R.I.P.VII challenge and it also slots into the Historical Fiction Challenge and the Mount TBR Challenge 2013.

8 thoughts on “The Death Maze by Ariana Franklin”

  1. I’m sort of stumped that a female forensic scientist existed at that time. I do believe she would have been considered a witch. The series sounds interesting enough, I’ll have to check it out.

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    1. Irene, I agree. When I read the first book in the series I was amazed at a woman forensic scientist but the School of Medicine at Salerno did exist and included women as both teachers and students.

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  2. Margaret – I know what you mean about novels that focus more on the historical story, if I can put it that way, than on the crime/investigation. I have to confess I forgave Franklin that in this novel because I found that history really fascinating. But I agree completely that it, rather than the crime, takes ‘centre stage’ in the novel.

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  3. Well, if you’ve got through this one then you’ll enjoy the others in the series because I think Franklin learnt from her mistake where this book is concerned and gave Rowley and Henry bigger roles. My problem with the series has always been that in books that are supposed to be about the abilities of women it is the male characters who bring the stories to life.

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    1. I see what you mean Alex – I think it’s the interaction between Adelia and Rowley/Henry that works well. I have read the next book – Relics of the Dead – and think it is better.

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  4. I enjoyed your review and was glad to see it, because I have this series. I have read the first, and now I am forewarned. If I am at all disappointed with the second, I will know that the 3rd is better. I think I will like them all because of the author’s writing style.

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