This is not so much a review, since it comes after so many, but a critique. I rather enjoyed Grave Goods and hoped, if there was a sequel, it would be even better. I think the author can tell a good story, and she knows how to keep you turning the pages. So, she knows the craft techniques, and if you're not bothered by internal inconsistency, you'll enjoy the story.
My major criticism is of the character of Adelia, the protagonist. In this story, at least, she was a disappointment to me. She spends most of the story feeling sorry for herself and thinking modern thoughts about the unfairness of patriarchal society, with which, I agree, of course, but could a woman of that era really have the thoughts she did? Anyway, she whines a lot, and yet, when it comes to her own safety, she's a flighty emotional creature with no ability to reason. Now, for a "Mistress of the Art of Death," a kind of forensic analyst capable of sharp deductive reasoning, this simply didn't ring true.
SPOILER ALERT: if you haven't read the book, you may want to skip the following comments.
A lot of people died because Adelia wouldn't face the fact that someone was out to destroy her. Yet the men that she constantly quarreled with, were the persons who kept her alive. They warned her of the danger from someone, and before long gave it the name of Scarry, the homosexual devil-worshiping lover of the man she killed, in her own defense, with Ex Calibur, Arthur's legendary sword. Adelia repeatedly denies this and says that Scarry is dead, though she has absolutely no evidence of this. Now, we are asked to believe that Adelia is an educated and capable feminist of the 12th century, and she's demonstrated that she can be calm and deliberative and highly rational when she's performing as the "Mistress..." and yet through most of the story she's just totally wrapped in herself and her emotions, and, at crucial times, she acts absolutely childish. As proof of this, at the long-expected wedding of Princess Joanna in Palermo, she's veiled and with a multitude of veiled women in the cathedral. All of her would-be protectors (Mansur, Ulf, O'Donnell, etc.)are in the cathedral and have warned her repeatedly of the danger from Scarry, and insisted that she be veiled like the rest of the women.
So far, so good. Then her smelly little dog escaped from his quarters and found Adelia in the congregation. Well, she takes the dog outside, because his odor is causing a ruckus among the women. Even this, while exposing her to danger, is understandable. But then, when she gets outside, she forgets all about Scarry and his threat to her safety, and she forgets all about the many people trying to protect her from the killer. What does she do? She runs off to buy some marionettes to take back to her daughter in England. By doing so, she does expose herself to Scarry, and she FINALLY realizes her danger and takes off running, leaving all of her would-be protectors searching madly for her too. And because of her childish behavior, her bishop lover is stabbed in the back by Scarry, dagger-thrusts that were meant for Adelia. So now, the lover she had long-ago rejected as a would-be husband, is dying because he tried to save the woman he never stopped loving. And none of this tragedy would have been necessary but for the infantile self-absorption of the protagonist.
And it makes you wonder: why was everyone so obsessed with her and her safety? The bishop quarreled with her often because of the dangerous situations she got herself into; O'Donnell, the sea-farer-pirate-admiral who loved her, was feared and rejected by her all through the story, though it was he alone who saved her from being burned at the stake as a Cathar. It was admitted she was not beautiful, nor was she graceful, and in one forgettable scene, she even laid on the ground and beat it with her fists as she gave vent to a tantrum. So, what was her appeal? At least she could have been competent and intelligent, and not behaved as a flighty adolescent through most of the story.
I see this as a degradation of what once seemed a promising character. Too much character inconsistency for me.