Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin: Book Review

I have an affiliate relationship with Bookshop.org and Malaprop's Bookstore in beautiful Asheville, NC. I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you purchase merchandise through links on my site. Read more on my affiliate page.
Mistress of the Art of Death

4 Stars

Children are missing from Cambridge, the town’s Jews have been blamed, and King Henry II is receiving less revenue while the Jews are in hiding. Clearly something must be done. Enter Adelia Aguilar. She has been trained at the world-renowned and forward-thinking school of medicine in Salerno, Italy. Her specialty? Corpses. She is a mistress of the art of death and the dead “speak” to her. She’s called in to examine the body of the one child who has been found and, along with her friends, try to find the killer.

This was a page-turner for me, mostly because of Adelia. She feels completely real. She’s super-intelligent but hopeless in society. She’s great with her patients but clueless as to how to interact with them outside the examining room. She’s a feminist in a time before the word was dreamed of. She tries to hold herself aloof from everyone, but her heart’s too big for that and she ends up caring in spite of herself. She feels like someone I would like to know in real life.

The other characters are a great supporting cast. For the most part, they’re reasonably well-rounded and I wound up caring about them too. My favorite was the little urchin, Ulff.

The mystery was solid. I did guess part of it, but not the whole thing. I did end up being very surprised by the end.

One thing that did bother me, and I’m not quite sure who to “blame” for this, is that this book takes place around the time that The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett ended, but this one felt like it could have been centuries later. Maybe it was just me, but Follett’s England under Henry II was a brutal, hopeless, scary place, and Franklin’s England at the same time felt like it could have taken place under Henry VIII, much, much later. I don’t know who got it right, but there was a huge difference in the feel of the technology and the lifestyles.

Another small thing is that the very last chapter felt like a history lesson tacked on. There was some balance with the beginning, because it began and ended with a disinterested person making observations about what he or she is seeing, but the very last page or two were just straight-up history. It was interesting, don’t get me wrong, but it felt like that kind of thing should have gone into the author’s notes at the end.

Those are small things though, and overall I really, really enjoyed the book. I highly recommend it to those who like historical mysteries, and I’ll be picking up the second in the series.

Reviewed July 27, 2009

Read an excerpt.

Find author Ariana Franklin on her website.

Buy Mistress of the Art of Death on


Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!

I have an affiliate relationship with IndieBound, Book Depository, and Better World Books and will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:


  1. I had this book from the library and I really wanted to read it but I never got a chance to and have been wanting to try it again, as I see there are more books featuring this character! That was just a very long sentence of me saying that I want to read it 🙂

  2. Great review! I love historical fiction, so this book is most definitely going on my tbr list.

  3. This one looks fantastic. Thanks for the great review. I haven't heard of this one, and I might have skipped it otherwise.

I love to hear from you! Please contact me (menu bar, above) if you're having trouble commenting.