I have posted quite a lot about Ariana Franklin‘s (aka Diana Norman’s) historical fiction, because I like her work so much. In fact, I interviewed her (you can read that interview here) after the release of the second book in the Mistress of the Art of Death series. We talked about all her fiction, her writing and research habits, and how she came to be a historical novelist.[asa book]0399155449[/asa] Diana’s work is set primarily in England, but there’s also a series that begins in the American Colonies at the time of the Revolution, and then her masterful City of Shadows set in post WWII Berlin. Grave Goods, the third novel in her Adelia Aguilar series has just been published in the U.S. I read it without 48 hours of it showing up in my Kindle queue, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
One of the biggest challenges in writing a series of novels is capturing the interest of new readers without boring those who have been following the story from the beginning. There’s a delicate balance that has to be achieved. If you can pull off just the right amount of backstory, new readers will stay with the book, and if you’ve done it really well, they’ll go look up the earlier books in the series. But it’s tricky. This is something Diana does with apparent ease (which means, of course, that she had to work at it very hard). She also has a deft touch for bringing the right details to the fore to make the time and place come alive without sounding like an academic treatise.
And she loves her material. Adelia’s story is set in late 12th century England, when Henry II was in power. If you’re one of those people who avoid history because you have found it dry and boring, you will think differently after you see Henry II in action through Diana’s eyes. He is one of those pivotal historical characters whose story sounds like fiction, but isn’t.
Henry II is presented as a vibrant, devious, far-sighted, brilliant man, and he’s not even a major character. Adelia Aguilar is the central character, someone you get to know so well she feels as if she shouldn’t be fictional. Raised and educated in 12th century Italy (where women were not barred from medical education) she first comes to England in her capacity as a reader of bones, or, in more current terms, a coroner. She is part of a party that is summoned to solve a series of murders that are tragic in and of themselves, and also threaten to trigger a larger political crisis. Adelia finds herself sparring with Henry (who enjoys it more than she does), with the religious leaders (who do not enjoy their encounters very much at all), with just about everyone, including Rowley, who will eventually become more to her than an obstacle.
In the beginning of Grave Goods, Adelia and her household have to abandon their home in Cambridgeshire because the local priests have had enough of her and are cooking up an excuse to accuse her of witchcraft and get rid of her. At the same time, Henry II summons her to fix something for him, this time to Glastonbury Abbey, which is reputed to be the burying ground of the original King Arthur.
This is, in the first line, a historical mystery, but in her usual fashion Franklin lets Adelia lead the way. While she’s delving deeper into the fire that destroyed the Abbey and the rumors having to do with a particular grave, she is also struggling with challenges to her understanding of herself and her wants and needs. She begins to question some of the decisions she has made, with repercussions readers of the earlier books may not have seen coming.
And that’s an excellent thing for the story and for Adelia, as well. I highly recommend all of Diana/Ariana’s work, and I’m really looking forward to the next installation of Ariana’s story.