Review

Grave Goods: A Mistress of the Art of Death Novel

by Ariana Franklin

Kings have a way of making nuisances of themselves. Vesuvia
Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar has finally achieved a peaceful,
happy, if somewhat unorthodox life for herself. She lives a quiet
life in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands, raising her young daughter
Allie (fathered by the long-absent Rowley Picot, now the bishop of
St. Alban’s) and spending time with Allie’s nurse
Gyltha and her companion (the Arabic eunuch and Adelia’s
oldest friend Mansur). Adelia’s greatest concern is looking
out for the welfare of her good friend, the recently (and happily)
widowed Emma, Lady Wolvercote and her young son.

Into Adelia’s satisfied existence, however, bursts a new
request from her so-called benefactor, the man who enables the
native Italian to settle safely and without challenge in England.
King Henry II has another problem on his hands, one that he’s
hoping Adelia can solve, just as she has solved other dilemmas
using her “arts of death.” This time, Henry is dealing
with an uprising of those pesky Welsh, whose rebellious spirit
refuses to be squelched as long as they believe their legendary
hero, King Arthur, “the once and future king,” is still
alive and waiting for the right moment to return and lead
again.

Henry hears of a young troubadour, Rhys, who witnessed a vision
20 years earlier, that of Arthur’s casket being lowered into
the ground at Glastonbury Abbey in the wake of an earthquake. When
a casket is uncovered following a devastating fire at Glastonbury,
holding skeletons that appear to belong to both a man and a woman,
speculation rises that these might be the remains of Arthur and
Guinevere, his queen. Henry hopes that Adelia can confirm the
identity of these bodies --- and allow Henry to crush the
Celts’ spirits once and for all.

But how is Adelia to verify the identity --- or even the age ---
of bones, in 1176, an era that pre-dates the discovery of carbon
dating by centuries? This dilemma proves to be only one of
Adelia’s challenges as she arrives in Glastonbury. Who
started the devastating fire that virtually destroyed the abbey and
surrounding town? Why do Adelia’s companions keep
disappearing? And what has happened to Emma, who came to the area
to claim her rightful inheritance, only to vanish without a
trace?

GRAVE GOODS is Ariana Franklin’s third novel to feature
Adelia, a most unusual, compelling and sympathetic heroine. Again,
in this latest installment, Adelia suffers from plenty of internal
conflicts, primarily the contrast between her emotional desires ---
her love for her daughter, her concern for her friend, her desire
for Rowley Picot, her fear of danger --- and her relentless
compulsion to pursue the truth: “if she was not a seeker
after truth, she was nothing,” she reflects at one point.

Franklin’s novels are certainly compelling character
studies, but they are also fascinating, detailed glimpses into the
medieval world Adelia inhabits. Here we learn about monastic life,
political struggles, legal customs and inheritance rules, all
wrapped up in a suspenseful, provocative mystery that will enthrall
mystery lovers and history buffs, Arthurians and feminist
historians, in equal measure.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2011

Grave Goods: A Mistress of the Art of Death Novel
by Ariana Franklin

  • Publication Date: March 2, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade
  • ISBN-10: 0425232336
  • ISBN-13: 9780425232330