The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Serpent's Tale is the follow up to Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death, the story of Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, a brilliant doctor living during the rule of King Henry II. Adelia, as she is most often called, cannot return to her homeland of Sicily because the king, who knows of her ability to identify the cause of death from the remains of a victim, finds her useful and is keeping her in England.
The Serpent's Tale is a good read, but doesn't live up to Franklin's wonderful first book. Adelia has a love interest, Rowley Picot, who, after Adelia turned down his proposal, accepted a royal appointment to become a bishop. Rowley is the father of Adelia's child. In Mistress of the Art of Death Adelia's relationship with Rowley grew during the course of the book. In this novel, Adelia's feelings for Rowley are mostly in her thoughts. There's one scene on a barge where they are tied up near each other that's interesting, but other than that the couple spends most of the book apart. Adelia's focus in this novel is more on her child than her lover.
The plot is about about the aftermath of a rivalry between Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Henry's queen, and Rosamund Clifford, the king's mistress. I didn't know the history before reading this book, so it was interesting to google Eleanor of Aquitaine to learn about this period. Eleanor supported her son's rebellion and, in Franklin's book, the people who could benefit from this conflict took advantage of Eleanor and Rosamund's hatred of each other.
What I find most interesting about Franklin's writing is the way she takes a modern perspective to her historical novel. The people of twelfth century England are not accepting of a woman doctor or a woman stepping out of her traditional role in any other way. So Adelia, who is educated, brilliant, and willing to raise her child alone, has to contend with the bigotry of the period. It's fun to see how, after she decides not to submit to a marriage requiring her to sacrifice her career, she deals with the reactions of the people.
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