In 1176 the Plantagenet King Henry II sent ten-year-old Joanna, his daughter by Eleanor of Acquitaine, to Palermo to marry the Norman Hauteville King William II of Sicily. In Franklins story, Adelia Aguilar is sent with the princess to attend to the young royals medical needs. Adelia is a doctor trained at the medical school at Salerno, Italy, where women were allowed to attend and autopsy was still being permitted. Linking up with Adelia is an odd group made up of her Arab companion, her scruffy dog, an Irish sea-captain, and the Bishop of St. Albans, her secret lover and father of her only child.
Although we have met Adelia earlier in a mystery set in England, this story is unique in that it follows the year long route Princess Joanna took as it made its slow way from England. The entourage goes by ship to the Duchy of Aquitaine to meet Joannas brother Richard I (the Lionheart), crosses the allied County of Toulouse, troops over the Pyrenees to Saint Gilles Port, and embarks by ship to reach the brilliant, prosperous, metropolis of Palermo. Think of it as a 12th century travelogue through medieval Europe - one enriched with dramatic tension and questions. Why are the deaths which occur with some frequency being attributed to Adelia? Who wishes to attach the label of witchcraft to her? And, who ultimately desires revenge and her death?
Along the way, Adelia encounters pilgrims on their way to Compostela, the horrors of the beginning persecution of the Languedoc heretics (the Cathars), the mountain Catalan people, and, finally, the fascinating multicultural world of Palermo, even as it is slowly surcoming to a Latin Catholicism which suppressed those of different faiths and diverse beliefs.
The intricacies of royal travel, with its ladies-in-waiting, knights, clergy and various retainers, is richly detailed as are descriptions of historic places, clothes, and everyday objects. Very full authors notes. A map of Adelias route would have helped.
The third of the Adelia Aguilar Mistress of the Art of Death series.
Note two other medieval travel mysteries reviewed on this site:
- The Red Velvet Turnshoe, (1383 journey from England to Florence, Italy).
- Strong as Death, (12th century travel from Paris to Compostela).