A Murderous Procession
Mistress of the Art of Death Series #4
Ariana Franklin

Penguin Group
Hardcover/400 pages
ISBN: 978-0425238868
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". . . an engrossing and fast-paced story."

Mystery, intrigue and a knack for trouble illuminate a dark corner of history.

In England, where women doctors are anathema and burned at the stake as witches, Adelia Aguilar has made a reluctant home. She is under the protection—and the command—of King Henry II as his mistress of death. Once again, King Henry commands Adelia from her quiet life with her young daughter to accompany his daughter Joanna to Palermo where she will marry the King of Sicily and cement yet another European alliance. To make sure Adelia returns to England when her task is finished, King Henry sends Adelia’s daughter to be tutored in the more ladylike arts by Queen Eleanor in her prison.

The task is simple: bring Joanna safely to Sicily and return. What Adelia finds is terror and an old enemy determined to bring her down—and anyone else who gets in his way.

King Henry II of England was a strong and progressive monarch in a time when the world was under the control of the Holy Roman Church. Cathars were persecuted and the first stirrings of the Spanish Inquisition were felt. Into this world of repression and suspicion, Ariana Franklin brings Adelia Aguilar, an orphan found on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and raised by unlikely parents: a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, both of whom were doctors and teachers of medicine. To make things even more complicated, in A Murderous Procession, the latest entry in Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death novels, Adelia is in love with a priest, who is also the father of her child, and accompanied everywhere by a black Moor posing as the doctor to protect Adelia from charges of witchcraft. This heady mix of fate and circumstance provides fertile ground for Franklin’s imaginative situation.

There is little detail about Joanna or her procession to Sicily, although Franklin does provide comment on King Henry’s two oldest sons, Henry and Richard, and their recent rebellion against him in concert with Queen Eleanor. The focus is on Adelia, the Cathar purge and very briefly about the weakness of the King of Sicily in the changing political climate. While the details add reality to the fiction, they provide little more than negative comment on the Catholic church.

Next to Adelia and Mansur, most of the characters are mere shadows. Princess Joanna, who should have been more clearly realized, was pale and insubstantial and Franklin does not warm to the task of providing a believable situation until Adelia and her friends await their death as Cathars. More detail would have been good for the story, but the details are lacking. There are moments when Franklin allows glimpses of solid characterization and then they quickly disappear. It is difficult to see how Adelia could be in love with the archbishop when there is so little of him visible. He is there, drops his bomb and is quickly gone, appearing at the last moment to save Adelia and earn his spurs—and a scar.

A Murderous Procession is rich in background details and history and Franklin does an admirable job of sustaining the mystery of Adelia’s would-be murderer until the end. The story is believable and the plot straightforward at first glance. What Franklin does well—history and political intrigue—adds depth to an interesting chapter in Adelia’s life. Though lacking in well-rounded characters, especially of the O’Donnell, A Murderous Procession is an engrossing and fast-paced story. I look forward to comparing this with previous adventures.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell