Thursday, 19 November 2015

Relics of the Dead by Ariana Franklin



published 2009







Adelia’s first thought was of how unmercifully the sun shone on a blackened and Relics of the Dead Abbotwithered 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.


Relics of the Dead Henry 2

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.





14 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you're enjoying these novels, Moira. I really like Franklin's writing style, too; I think it draws the reader in and keeps the pace going effectively. And this is one of those series where, as you say, the history is accurate. And yet, it doesn't overburden the story. That's not an easy balance to strike.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know Margot - she did really well didn't she? A sad loss to the world of historical crime fiction.

      Delete
  2. Love your enthusiasm, but no I can avoid without feeling like I'm missing out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Somehow can't see you getting on with a 12th century lady sleuth.

      Delete
  3. This is another series that I think My Ma is very keen on - musr check with her (not that I don't trust you Moira ....) :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Always good to get a second opinion - and mothers' opinions are of course sacrosanct. I'm sure that's what my children think, anyway.

      Delete
  4. Moira, I gather this isn't historical fiction as much as fiction set around a historical character and period. I think there is a difference between the two though it's likely I'm confused.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A useful distinction, Prashant, and one I hadn't thought about before. Although real people appear in these books, she is telling a fictional story about fictional people she imagines living then. Other fiction might tell the story of real historical figures in the format of a novel, putting words in their mouths and thoughts in their heads. I think there are some novel based on the King and Queen at the time - Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

      Delete
    2. I'm not sure that was an explanation Prashant - I was trying to work it out for myself and thinking aloud while writing it down!

      Delete
  5. I would like to think I might catch up with you in 2016, but I have so many books to read and I plan to go with my mood in 2016 so we will see. I am glad to see you are enjoying them so much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You read the first one is that right? Well, the others will wait for you, they'll still be there when you are ready....

      Delete
  6. Well, there is a fifth book that Ariana Franklin/Diana Norman's daughter wrote that continues the series.
    I admit I read the first two but got put off a bit, although I could pick them up again.
    I'd like to find some of Norman's earlier books about Ireland and England, but they are nowhere to be found here, and if I could find any, I'd imagine the print would be a tiny font as paperbacks used to be, and my aging eyes couldn't read them.
    She must have been a fascinating person, and by what I've read, she did a lot of research.
    I wonder if Henry II is as noble as she portrays him. From what I've read he was instrumental in gaining a lot of territory for England, and I'm sure that wasn't done with kindness.
    And I'm half Irish, so look at these English kings with skepticism, at least.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kathy, I didn't know her daughter carried on. I've never seen her other books either - but she does sound lovely, indeed.
      That's the thing about historical fiction isn't it - the author has to 'take sides' and they have the option to think well or badly of people who probably weren't wholly either. I'm not that taken with Royalty myself, of any kind.

      Delete