I rarely cheat and use Goodreads for my book summaries, but I just couldn’t figure out a way to summarize this one without giving too much away, so…
Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II, has died an agonizing death by poison—and the king’s estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the prime suspect. Henry suspects that Rosamund’s murder is probably the first move in Eleanor’s long-simmering plot to overthrow him. If Eleanor is guilty, the result could be civil war. The king must once again summon Adelia Aguilar, mistress of the art of death, to uncover the truth.
Adelia is not happy to be called out of retirement. She has been living contentedly in the countryside, caring for her infant daughter, Allie. But Henry’s summons cannot be ignored, and Adelia must again join forces with the king’s trusted fixer, Rowley Picot, the Bishop of St. Albans, who is also her baby’s father.
Adelia and Rowley travel to the murdered courtesan’s home, in a tower within a walled labyrinth—a strange and sinister place from the outside, but far more so on the inside, where a bizarre and gruesome discovery awaits them. But Adelia’s investigation is cut short by the appearance of Rosamund’s rival: Queen Eleanor. Adelia, Rowley, and the other members of her small party are taken captive by Eleanor’s henchmen and held in the nunnery of Godstow, where Eleanor is holed up for the winter with her band of mercenaries, awaiting the right moment to launch their rebellion.
Isolated and trapped inside the nunnery by the snow and cold, Adelia and Rowley watch as dead bodies begin piling up. Adelia knows that there may be more than one killer at work, and she must unveil their true identities before England is once again plunged into civil war . . .
Basically, our favorite 12th-century forensic pathologist is back in action, only this time her action is complicated because 1) its winter, and in 1147(?) travel wasn’t easy in perfect weather, so imagine how much tougher it is in 4 feet of snow; 2) her friend, confidant, and all-around helper Rowley is now a bishop, an Important Person in court and in the Church so on top of everything else their relationship is changing; and 3) she has a BABY and running around solving murders when you need to take breaks for breastfeeding is tough for anyone, 12th-century or otherwise.
Much like the first book in this series, Mistress of the Art of Death (reviewed here!) Adelia is called on by King Henry to help solve a murder, only this time the murder is connected to the royal court and the identity of the murderer could lead to war. I like these books, not just because I like historical fiction, but because I like Adelia. She wants to be strong and independent and most of the time she is successful, impressive for a time period when any woman with an ounce of brains was accused of witchcraft and executed. Yet she also struggles with things like balancing her work and motherhood, her faith – whether she has any at all, and if she does, what exactly does she believe in? She’s imperfect, and despite her sometimes abrasive manners and foolish decisions, she’s likable and as a reader you are on her side.
I missed Rowley a bit in this novel. He wasn’t as involved as he was in the first book, and when he was, his character began to change and grow due to his new position as bishop. I wouldn’t say he is a favorite character by any means, but his interplay with Adelia was fun and I wanted more. We did see more of Adelia’s relationship with her friend Glytha (I think that’s the correct spelling of her name – I made a dumb move and returned the book to the library before writing my review to avoid fines, haha). Anyway, Glytha is matronly and well-grounded in common sense, and she’s a good balance to Adelia’s impulsive and sometimes pig-headed nature. I like her, and enjoy reading about her.
There was definitely more court intrigue in this novel, including a long, detailed scene with Adelia interacting with King Henry. He’s a smart, progressive ruler who could be much more of a jerk than he chooses to be. His queen and children are in the novel as well, so if historical fiction with Royal Drama is your thing, you will like this novel.
Finally, I wasn’t able to figure out who the murderer was before the characters in the novel, which was great. I was surprised and pleased with the twist ending. While I didn’t love this book quite as much as the first, I still give it 3.5 stars out of 5, and recommend it to fans of historical fiction and mystery novels.