Franklin, Ariana - 'The Death Maze'
THE DEATH MAZE is the second in Ariana Franklin's series about Adelia Aguilar, a female doctor in 12th Century England. It was published in the US under the title THE SERPENT'S TAIL. In this book we move forward a year or so from where we left Adelia at the end of the previous novel, MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH, and things have changed a lot in her life; she has a baby by her lover, Rowley, now Bishop of St Albans.
The plot concerns the death of Rosamund Clifford, mistress of Henry II, and whether or not it was Eleanor of Aquitaine who poisoned her. Adelia is summoned to find out how and why Rosamund died, and by whose hand. So she must travel across an England in the grip of a fierce winter to Oxford and more specifically to Godstow Nunnery. North of Godstow is Henry's hunting lodge, where Rosamund died, and which is surrounded by a vast maze, hence the title of the book. Adelia must pass through the maze to discover what happened and then she must negotiate the maze of half-truths and misinformation she is given to solve the puzzle. Travelling with Adelia are her baby, her servant Mansur and her servant Gyltha. They haven't even reached the nunnery before the body count starts to rise so you know they are in for a tough time. They need to find out what happened before the news reaches Henry and all hell breaks loose.
I really like this series so far. The historical detail is interesting and has a ring of authenticity. You get the feeling that the writer really knows her stuff. Particularly interesting is the constant battle of Adelia to be able to work as a doctor, from her lowly position as a woman, and further as one suspected of being the Bishop's tart. The position of women in this society is a theme throughout the book as it affects several of the characters. Women in general have no power. On the other hand though, we are in the presence of the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine - a woman who does wield power and who may be about to spark a civil war.
This was a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. It's dark in places but there are touches of humour too. It's well plotted and complex enough to hold the attention and filled with interesting multi-dimensional characters. Roll on the next one, RELICS OF THE DEAD, due out in August 2009.
Pat Austin, England