Book Review:Mistress of the Art of Death

Mistress of the Art of Death

Ariana Franklin

Putnam

400 pages

Adelia Aguilar is what we may now refer to as a forensic examiner.  She performs autopsies on the deceased in order to determine the cause of death.  Her profession is a bit different though, given that she lives in 1171.  As Mistress of the Art of Death starts out, Adelia is on her way to Cambridge to investigate the death of one child and the disappearance of three others.  Peter is the first child to have disappeared, and the only one whose body has been discovered.  He has immediately been granted sainthood, as rumor has it he was crucified.  The finger of blame is immediately pointed at the Jews, and they are subsequently imprisoned for their own safety, as lynchings begin to take place.  Peter, meanwhile, is elevated to sainthood and thus revered.

Adelia arrives in Cambridge with Simon of Naples, who is an investigator.  She attempts to mask her identity, as a female doctor is not the norm for that time period.  She immediately sets forth attempting to solve the mystery of the murders.  This is difficult at first, because Adelia is used to examining bodies, not investigating the circumstances.  Yet, in this instance, she is thrown right into the investigation, along with Simon of Naples, and try as she might, she can no longer stop herself from hypothesizing on the circumstances.

I expected Mistress of the Art of Death to be a straightforward mystery, but it surprised me in the sense that there was quite a bit going on.  We have religious intolerance as a main theme, which gets even more intense, as Adelia was raised by a Jew.  She has that tie to the imprisoned Jews, along with the fact that Simon is Jewish.  Therefore, they have to tread carefully while still keeping an open mind.  Adelia’s gender also plays a large role in the novel, as the time period is not very kind to women.  She faces many limitations and much secrecy as far as her gender is concerned, and throughout the novel she always seems to outwardly spurn her sex, as though being a doctor and being a woman are mutually exclusive.  That issue became a bit infuriating for me at times because I found Adelia to be a bit obstinate in certain points of the book, and I wanted her so badly to open up!

I have had my eye on this book for awhile, and then Meghan, from Medieval Bookworm, hosted A Tournament of Reading in 2010.  I am ashamed to say that this is the only book I read for the challenge, and I didn’t even finish it until 1/1/2011! I loved the medieval time period though, and I thought Franklin did a great job portraying the way life was.  Ultimately, I am no expert, so the book could have been full of fallacies for all I know, but it felt genuine to me.  By the time I finished the book, I was adding the second book in the series to my wishlist and kicking myself for not buying it when I was at B&N a few days ago!  Has anyone else read on in the series?  What did you think of the other books?

Other Reviews:

Medieval Bookworm

Rhapsody in Books

things mean a lot

I purchased this book from Borders.

This book counts towards A tournament of Reading.


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9 Responses

  1. I’ve read 3 now. I didn’t like the second so much, but the third seems like the best so far.

  2. I received this book when I ordered it from Paperbackswap and I’ve been meaning to get to this one!

  3. You did better than me with A Tournament of Books – not one did I finish! I l do like the look of this one though.

  4. I liked the premise of this book a lot and probably would have loved it more if not for the romance angle. I read this a few years ago so I’m forgetting details but I want to say that what I wish was that it had been drawn out more over other books. I haven’t read more in the series but I have heard good things about them. I may check another out.

  5. I would love to read this book. I have had it on my radar for awhile, but just haven’t had the chance to get to it yet.

  6. I’ve had this for a long time and still haven’t read it, but you’re making me want to go home and pick it up!

  7. Ah the joys of challenges! This sounds like an interesting read even though I tend to shy away from this genre.

  8. I love this series! I think the fourth was my favorite, the third next, then the first. I didn’t love the second one, but I certainly enjoyed it enough to keep going with the series!

  9. My mom and I both read this one a while back and really liked it but for some reason neither of us has picked up the next book. Really need to do that!

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