REVIEW: ‘The Serpent’s Tale’ (2008) by Ariana Franklin

by Sarah on January 21, 2010 · 9 comments

Genre: Historical Mystery/Medieval Mystery

POV: 3rd Person

Senusuality: Subtle

Violence: It’s a murder mystery, so there is violence but most of it occurs off page.

My Grade: A-

The Serpents Tale (UK title: The Death Maze) is the second book in Ariana Franklin’s excellent Medieval murder mystery series featuring Adelia Aguilar. I read it for Avidbookreader’s monthly TBR Challenge.

England, 1176: Rosamund Clifford, the beloved mistress of King Henry II, has been poisoned. The fickle finger of suspicion points towards Henry’s estranged wife, Queen Eleanor. With the spectre of Civil War looming, Henry sends his faithful servant, Rowley Picot, newly-appointed Bishop of Saint Albans, to summon Adelia Aguilar to investigate. In addition to being Henry’s unwilling “investigator of the dead”, Adelia happens to be Rowley’s ex-lover and the mother of his child.

Adelia is loath to leave her life of comparable comfort for a journey through the bitter winter to serve her unwanted employer. She is particularly resentful of the fact that she’s faced with the prospect of a long journey in the company of her ex-lover for whom she still harbours a reluctant tendre. But Henry is the king and, in consequence, Adelia has no option but to obey. With her faithful servants Mansur and Gyltha in tow, Adelia and her baby daughter accompany Rowley on the long journey to Godstow Priory, the scene of Rosamund’s death.

Their arrival at Godstow Priory is preceded by a grisly discovery. It seems there is more than one murderer on the loose, but who are they, and what is their purpose? A combination of the weather and an invasion renders Adelia and her companions virtual prisoners at the priory. Before long, Adelia finds herself an unwilling pawn in a web of political intrigue and ruthless ambition. With the body count rising, Adelia finds herself in a race against time to catch the killer(s) before the thaw sets in.

The Serpent’s Tale is even better than its predecessor, Mistress of the Art of Death. Ariana Franklin provides just the right amount of historical detail combined with excellent characterization and compelling storytelling. The mystery is very well done and kept me guessing right until the end.

Both Rowley and Adelia are complex characters with flaws and issues which are not magically resolved over the course of the story. Adelia’s new role as mother is frequently at odds with her chosen profession and she struggles to define herself in a male-dominated society. Her feelings for Rowley are equally conflicted, as are his for her. Despite his initial misgivings, Rowley has found his niche as a Man of God. He struggles to reconcile his faith with his very ungodly feelings for Adelia. But more than God, Rowley’s unswerving loyalty to his king is the true obstacle in their relationship.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Serpent’s Tale and can recommend this series unreservedly. The third book, Grave Goods, will be released in paperback in March. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Also Reviewed in this Series:

Mistress of the Art of Death – Book 1

Other Reviews of A Serpent’s Tale:


Jayne at Dear Author - B+


Jayne January 21, 2010 at 16:05

Adelia and Rowley’s conlficted feelings continue in “Grave Goods” and in the 4th book of the series “A Murderous Procession” which I just finished reading. I think it’s wonderful that Franklin has managed to retain my interest, keep her characters interesting and, better yet, still evolving after 4 books.

Sarah January 21, 2010 at 16:19

@Jayne: I’m really looking forward to both Grave Goods and A Murderous Procession. As Grave Goods will be released in paperback in March, I’m going to hold out until then. I doubt I’ll manage to resist the temptation to order A Murderous Procession in hardcover!

Keishon January 21, 2010 at 17:57

Love this author’s voice. Have loved almost everything she’s written thus far. She’s one of the best historical fiction writers out there (for me). Excellent review as usual Sarah.

Angie January 21, 2010 at 20:28

I’m really looking forward to starting this series. My library has the first one so I’ll head on over and get it soon!

Sarah January 21, 2010 at 21:07

@Keishon: Thank you for the excellent recommendation!

@Angie: If you like mysteries and a Medieval setting, these books are fantastic.

SonomaLass January 21, 2010 at 23:41

I’ve been meaning to read these; thanks for the reminder and the endorsement. Just requested the first one from my library.

I’m a big Eleanor of Aquitaine junkie, from having played her on stage a number of years ago. The research was so much fun that I didn’t want to stop. I like Sharon Kay Penman’s books set in and around this time, too.

Sarah January 22, 2010 at 09:06

@Keishon: I forgot to put in the link to your challenge! Sorry about that. I’ve just added it.

@SonomaLass: They are well-written and well-researched. I hope you enjoy them!

heidenkind January 23, 2010 at 23:21

I usually avoid books set during this time period, just because they tend to be too depressing. EoA is particularly a character I’m wary of.

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