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First Sentence: The two men's voices carried down the tunnels with a reverberation that made them indistinguishable but, even so, gave the impression of a business meeting.

King Henry II refused to let Adelia Aguilar return to her home at the School of Medicine in Sicily so she is living in the fens with her baby daughter Allie, companion and baby's nursemain Gyltha, the Saracan Mansur, who poses as the doctor allowing Adelia to treat patients without being named a witch, and her new dog Ward.

King Henry's mistress, Rosemund, has been poisoned and his wife, Queen Eleanor is being accused. Adelia, recruited by Rowley, must prove Eleanor's innocence before the country is brought to civil war.

In some ways, this seemed a much bigger story than Franklin's first book (Mistress of the Art of Death) because of the themes.

Franklin presents a very real, unromanticized look at the time and the people in it, including Thomas Beckett and Queen Eleanor. She clearly illustrates how difficult it was to be a woman during the time as well as what life was like during civil war for those not of the ruling class.

Her descriptions are extremely visual and sometimes quite unpleasant but very effective. Although I had read the first book, I appreciated the way Franklin provided a recapitulation of the plot and the character's backgrounds sufficient to bring readers up to current to this book. It's not all politics and description.

The plot is fascinating with good intrigue and suspense with bits of romance and humor. Yes, there are anachronisms, but they are small and I've willing to forgive them when viewed against the strengths of the story. In all, it was a fascinating book and a thoroughly good read.
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First, let me warn the reader that this book is also published under the title The Serpent's Tale.

Ariana Franklin is the pseudonym of a well-known author of historical novels, Diana Norman, wife of the film critic Barry Norman. She is a former Fleet Street Reporter and lives in Hertfordshire.

I thoroughly enjoyed the author's first book Mistress Of The Art Of Death, finding it well researched and very well written, so of course I was delighted when I saw the Serpent's tale in the bookshop. Sometimes in these circumstances the reader feels let down, either because the second book is not as good as the first or more likely the reader's expectations are too high. No such thing with this book, it is equally as good if not better than the first, particularly as the main character of Adelia Aguilar is now familiar to those who have read the first book.

In the first novel, Adelia initially came to England at the request of Henry I who asked his cousin the king of Sicily to send him a "Master of Death" an early version of our present medical examiner in the hope that a scientific examination would be able to exonerate the Jewish community and save them from the rioting mob who believe that the Jews sacrifice Christian children. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia, the king has been sent a mistress of the art of death.

In the Serpent's Tale Henry II is now on the throne and his mistress Rosamund Clifford has died a painful death by poisoning. Henry's wife Eleanor of Aquitaine is the number one suspect. Henry feels that this could well be the start of a campaign by Eleanor to discredit him and take the throne either for herself or her son's. Civil war could soon break out and Henry needs an answer to the crime and quickly. Henry immediately sends for Adelia is Mistrress of the Art of Death, who is less than pleased to be brought from retirement in the country where she is spending a carefree life attending to the needs of her little daughter.
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on 18 August 2009
Dark events surround the courts of Henry II and Queen Eleanor as jealousy accompanied with murder threatens to spark a civil war!

The unusual female protagonist was a refreshing change in a genre where male detectives tend to dominate an author's attention. In this book the author has skilfully woven a twisting tale where an independent forward thinking woman utilises her skills and education in a society where women were definitely seen as second class citizens by men and the established Church.

Such is the appeal of this unusual combination of characteristics surrounding Adelia, that you can't help willing her to succeed and strongly empathise with her at key moments of the story.

The plot is certainly deceptive! Just when you think you have learnt all there is to know about the crimes and expect the author to wrap the story up, along comes a massive surprise - throwing a proverbial spanner in the works!

Unique, appealing and engrossing are labels that best describe this book. If you enjoy books set during the early medieval period and with a `fictional crime thriller flavour'; then buy this one and delve in!

Be aware however, that this is book two and there is an initial instalment in the series.
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on 29 April 2008
This is an excellent follow up to Mistress of the Art of Death (which I highly recommend you read first, though it isn't strictly necessary!) and picks up a few months after the first left off.
Adelia Aguilar is a supremely well-formed protaganist and the plot is just convoluted enough to be interesting without being long-winded or impossible to follow. The changes in Adelia wrought by motherhood are particularly interesting, which is why I recommend reading Mistress.. first.
This is a wonderful mystery, rich with historical detail that in no way leaves you feeling like you are reading a text book. It is clearly well-researched but the details simply help to immerse the reader in the story, without detracting from it. And speaking as someone who does history for a living, that is no mean feat.
For anyone with an interest in history and a love of mysteries, this is a book not to be missed and I for one am very much hoping that there will be many more tales from Dr Aguilar's casebook in the future.
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on 4 September 2011
I love historical thrillers and good writing, and they're best represented - for me and I think many others - by CJ Sansom's Shardlake books. I'm hungry for similar books and there are lots of good ones even if they don't quite meet the same standard.

There is so much this book of Ariana Franklin's, the second in her series about medieval female pathologist Adelia Aguilar, to enjoy. I wouldn't go so far as to say the reader is transported into the 12th century, but the author's academic historical background gives us a marvellous description of How Things Worked in those days - what they ate, how they dressed, how they kept warm, how justice was meted out and so on, from issues of the greatest importance to the very mundane. I particularly enjoyed the way the luxurious world of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine is presented, with light where there was darkness, warmth where there was cold, and more than a hint of Versailles in the tundra.

Franklin also has a very sure touch when it comes to surprising the reader, often dropping significant plot developments into an otherwise anodyne paragraph in a way that makes you sit up and take notice.

But in the end the book was unsatisfying. It was easy to spot the villain very early on - a criticism I would make of the previous book in the series, Mistress of the Art of Death. There was also a lot of chatter about maternal love that this particular (male) reader found out of place in a thriller. I suppose that in the end I just can't identify with Adelia or her coterie.

I might be tempted to read one more because I enjoyed the first book, but it won't be for a while.
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on 16 November 2013
This second book by Ariana Frankin did not disappoint.
If anything the plot and characterisation were even better than her first book and the pace of the narrative kept the candle burning in a page turning frenzy!
Would heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys a great fast paced thriller/murder mystery.
The fact that it is set in the middle ages just adds to the roller coaster ride!
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on 1 March 2008
This sequel (hopefully the first of many) to the brilliant "Mistress of the Art of Death" is just as enjoyable. The heroine, Adelia, is a satisfyingly complex and independent character, and her role as an outsider enables the author to cast a new light on England in the reign of Henry II. Real historical events and personalities - most notably, Fair Rosamund of Woodstock - are convincingly integrated into the narrative. The book works well as a mystery, as a historical novel and as a rather unconventional romance. But its real strength comes from the rich seams of ideological debate and political intrigue that underly - without ever overwhelming - the story, as well from the staunch, uncompromising integrity of the main protagonist.
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on 17 November 2012
Loved this 2nd book .She keeps you guessing right 'til the end! i really enjoy reading historical novels Bernard Cornwall, C. J Sansom etc where you get an insight to life of people at that time and learn something about the history of the time. Can't wait to read the next one in the series
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on 8 August 2013
Although I think the first book was better, this is still very well researched. The historical facts are subtly woven into the plot, and Miss Franklin does a good job of keeping the reader interested.
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on 17 July 2010
BEWARE OF DUPLICATION when you order Ariana Franklin books. Sometimes Amazon can indicate "US edition" but it can only go on information supplied by publishers who are very sneaky. The first title, MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH is the same in both countries.

BUT:

DEATH MAZE is also THE SERPENT'S TALE
A MURDEROUS PROCESSION is also THE ASSASSIN'S TALE
RELICS OF THE DEAD is also GRAVE GOODS.

All are terrific books, but it can be a pain to get the same story under different titles, and expensive in returns. Be careful.
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