Week 19 concludes my list. I mean, I’m not really done – I haven’t read ‘em all – but reading stuff other people chose was getting tiring. Time I choose myself. I do feel like I’m pretty good at choosing books I like (and dislike… I chose Marked after all!) so from now on, I read mostly what I want. I am reading some stuff from the list that I wanted to read anyway (like the Princess Bride and Confessions of an Ugly Step Sister). But let’s get the last week of obeying the list over with. This is Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin.
Title: Dødens herskerinde
Original title: Mistress of the Art of Death
By: Ariana Franklin
Published by Aschehoug Dansk forlag 2007
First published 2007
A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction.
In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town’s Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry I is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest “master of the art of death,” an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a mistress of the art of death.
Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king’s tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia’s investigation takes her into Cambridge’s shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again .
Rating on Goodreads: (liked it)
Right, finally. Only took me a coulple of weeks *cough* Right, so seeing as this is a review, I guess it all boils down to whether or not I like the book. So… do I?
Short answer: no.
Long answer: actually kind of yes but then not but… Right, let’s just do it the usual way.
So, what I expected from this book and what I got was very different. I expected a pretty straightforward, simple crime story set in Medieval England. What I got was historical fiction with a crime story, sorta. It’s not really a bad thing, but when your expectations are turned around like this, you can’t help but feel a certain disappointment. Before we talk more about that, though, let’s talk about the stuff I usually do.
First off the writing, which I found to be confusing. Sometimes, I found that another thing was happening while I thought that other stuff was happening. Some sentences were downright clumsy, but it’s hard to say whether it’s the writer’s fault or the translater. It’s generally very beautiful prose with some effective descriptions, but at the same time it was just difficult to keep track of what was going on. The narrative was sort of all over the place.
When it comes to the characters, they are actually nice and memorable, which is one reason this book is not a one or a two. I like them well enough, the main character probably less so, and they added some to the story. When I say I probably didn’t like the main character much, it’s because she suffers from that all too common problem: the author just liked her too much. She is taken too seriously and thus I can’t take her seriously. Everytime her entire name was mentioned like a sort of title, probably to sound cool, it just seemed melodramatic and I kind of giggled. Other than that – the other characters were neat and good fun. It’s not like Franklin is the first to fall in love with her main character.
The story is where I kind of grind to a halt and start really dislinking. There’s a crime story in this book, there really is, and it’s interesting and intriguing and I really like it. It’s just not focused enough. See, Franklin used to write historical fiction and not historical thrillers and it shows, I’m afraid. She has done an absolutely stunning amount of research, and it is impressive as holy applejuice, but I only know this because of the massive infodumping.
Now, I actually like infodumping here and there and this is the first time (except for Clive Cussler) I really see how it can be a disadvantage. There is so much info in there and that would be cool if I read this because it was historical fiction, but I read it for the murder mystery. An intriguing murder mystery that is completely drowned by so much other stuff. It’s description heavy too, and while very poetic and beautiful it’s just way too much.
In the end, the mystery was resolved and I liked the resolve and I liked the mystery, but even after the end of the murder mystery, the story dragged on and on and I just got bored by the last fifty pages.
In the end, I’ll give Franklin that I liked the mystery but there was just not enough of it. Less description of feasts and dresses and pretty rivers and birdies could have made it better for me. I do see a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads, so perhaps I’m just the weird one out. I did like this book, I just wanted more murder mystery and less description of medieval life, but if you don’t agree with me on that, you’ll probably like this very well.