Thursday, 19 November 2015
Relics of the Dead by Ariana Franklin
Adelia’s first thought was of how unmercifully the sun shone on a blackened and withered thing that shrank from the glare because it had once been beautiful.
It was still possible to see the former grace of an arch where only a half of it now stood; to mentally rebuild from those stumps of charred stone a long, elegant nave, a transept, a pillared cloister; to recognize the artistry of a master mason’s carving under the soot of a tumbled, broken capital…
A monk strode energetically towards them from somewhere on their right…To Mansur, he said: ‘ I give thanks to the King and to Almighty God for your coming. All the world knows of Arab skill in the sciences. I am Abbot Sigward.’ He bent his head to each of the women as Adelia introduced herself, then Gyltha… ‘Ladies, gentleman, God’s blessings on you.’
commentary: I am annoyed with myself for racing through these books, because I know there is only one more – the author sadly died a few years ago with only four Adelia books completed. But I enjoy them so much that I can’t slow down.
This one involves bodies discovered buried in the burnt-down Glastonbury Abbey: King Henry II employs Adelia to go and look at them. Are they Arthur and Guinevere? It would suit some people if they were, but others not so much. She – as ever – merely wants to find the truth. And also wants to sort out her relationship with the Bishop of St Albans, and look after her child and the rest of her entourage. She is also worried about Emma, Lady Wolvercote, left over from the previous book.
The crime plot wouldn’t slow you down much – it’s not a huge surprise how the principals are going to range themselves in the ranks of good and evil, and there’s plenty of hints as to what is going on. But I love Franklin’s free and easy style of writing – she points out that if she did authentic conversation you wouldn’t be able to understand a word of it, so she might as well give them a breezy modern idiom which is entertaining and enjoyable. There are some great characters here: the Welsh bard Rhys is hilarious, as are the men of the frankenpledge, who are beautifully drawn and delineated. At the same time, the book makes details of quite a number of legal procedures fascinatingly clear – the history is very well-done.
Henry II appears briefly at the beginning and at the end of the book: the author is plainly fascinated by him and his character and his actions and what he wanted to achieve, and she passes that fascination on. I can’t be the only reader who went and found out more about him as a result of reading these books…
Previous entries on Franklin books here and here.
Picture of ruins of Glastonbury Abbey by George Arnald via The Athenaeum. Representing the Abbot above is a picture of St Anthony Abbot by Fra Angelico from the same source.