Reading Group Guide
1. In what ways has the character of Adelia changed since the events of Mistress of the Art of Death? How do her experiences in the earlier novel inform her actions in The Serpent's Tale?
2. Were you familiar with the legend of Henry and Eleanor before reading this book? How does Ms. Franklin's portrayal of them compare to others you have read or seen? Did you learn anything about them that surprised you?
3. Sister Havis remarks that the icehouse at Godstow Abbey was built "long before [the abbey's] foundation," quite possibly by the Romans. How do details such as these enrich the storytelling? What other details does the author employ to create a sense of time, place, and history in the novel?
4. Some people's names in the novel are pointedly descriptive, such as the ill-humoured mercenary named Cross. What other character names seem intentionally selected in this way? How does this technique assist or enhance the storytelling?
5. Much as a modern woman might, Adelia rejects many of the commonly held beliefs of medieval England, such as the inferiority of women and the existence of witchcraft. Are there also ways in which Adelia's thinking seems a product of its time? How do you think she would fare in the modern world?
6. In explaining his pious attitude towards his vows, Picot tells Adelia that a bishop is "…a keeper of other people's souls. His own, yours… Adelia, it matters. I thought it would not, but it does." Do you think Adelia is obligated to respect his beliefs? Would you consider it "immoral" if she tried to change his mind?
7. Mother Edyve sees the rise of "courtly love" – what we would today understand as romance – as a step towards raising the status of women. Adelia sees it as "a pleasant hypocrisy… Love, honor, respect. When are they ever extended to everyday women?" From today's perspective, whose view do you think has proven more accurate?
8. How has Adelia's role as a mother changed her view of the world? Do you think she would have been as personally invested in the fate of a character like Emma Bloat before the birth of her daughter? Overall, is motherhood an advantage or disadvantage for Adelia?