I embarked on THE ASSASSIN’S PRAYER (aka A MURDEROUS PROCESSION) somewhat wistfully. Having liked its three predecessors very much I wanted to read it but knowing it is the last in the small series gives a finality to my involvement with its ongoing characters that is quite rare. I saved it up for as long as I could but in the end my curiosity about the fate of its central character, an unlikely but engaging Medieval female doctor, demanded that I read this last instalment.
As the book opens it is 1176 or thereabouts, two years since the events of the third book in the series, RELICS OF THE DEAD and life for Adelia, her young daughter and the close friends who are a de facto family is relatively calm. But calm lives do not make for fascinating reading and the drama of this novel is sparked when King Henry demands that Adelia, her loyal manservant Mansur and others accompany his daughter Joanna, who is only 10, on her journey to marry King William II of Sicily. To ensure Adelia’s return Henry refuses her permission to take Allie, the young daughter she had with her lover Rowley (now Bishop of St Albans) and entrusts the child to the care of his imprisoned wife Eleanor. Almost from the beginning the large travelling party is plagued by a series of setbacks – a lame horse, medical emergencies and so on – that some ascribe to the ‘witch’ Adelia. But the real cause is far more sinister: one of the travellers wants Adelia dead and will go to any lengths to make it happen.
I can see looking back that these books have gotten progressively less mysterious as the series has progressed but this one is hardly a mystery at all. It’s more straight historical fiction with overtones of thriller I suppose. Not that I care really (it wouldn’t take much for me to digress for a rant about the ludicrous and unnecessary genre-isation of literature) but I thought I should make it clear in case all you want is a book that is pure historical crime fiction. If so this is not the book for you as there really isn’t much of a whodunnit element.
If however you are interested in the period, lovingly recreated with equal parts research and imagination, great characters and a romp of an adventure then I’d recommend the book, though this is one of those cases where having read the previous instalments is a real advantage by offering insight into some of the characters’ behaviour and choices. As always the period details are absorbing and this time some of the novel’s highlights are due to Adelia and company’s interactions with a community of Cathars, some members of which are first encountered when the travelling party has fallen ill and must take refuge so that the sick can be tended to. Franklin uses this community, essentially a splinter group which derided the more ostentatious and corrupt practices of the Catholic Church, to explore the differences between religious doctrine and genuine faith which is a theme she has visited in earlier novels too. It is perhaps due to my own biases in this arena that I find her exploration of this idea both engaging and timely. The brutal torture and murder of people due solely to their apparent disregard for the prevailing religious doctrine is not, sadly, something found only in history books and I guess I cling to the hope that any time the tragic irony of this kind of stupidity can be exposed we collectively draw a little closer to eradicating this nonsense from our world.
In many ways this is a more sombre book than its predecessors, as if the entire novel is subject to the pall of impending doom that hangs over the procession though really it is due to the sadness of its central character. Although happy to be going home to Sicily Adelia is almost bereft at leaving her daughter and when a truly horrible fate befalls a newly made friend and she is then made aware of the presence of a malevolent force intent upon her destruction it’s not hard to see why Adelia isn’t as quick with the witty banter as she has been in earlier novels. I thought this more serious tone quite fitting for the last book in the series but of course it probably was not meant to be the last one and I’m undoubtedly attributing something never intended by the author (who died last year). Even so there are hints of the old humour and the story itself doesn’t allow the reader much time to dwell on its sadnesses, quickly moving from near-miss, to capture, to escape and more. Although probably unintended I found the cliffhanger ending quite satisfying as I have imagined my own conclusion to Adelia’s story but I do appreciate that many readers feel a little cheated by the unresolved nature of things,
I’m sure Franklin has taken some liberties with history and acceptable behaviour in creating this novel and its predecessors but I neither know nor care what they are. In the main the historical context is accurate and Franklin explains, via an afterword some of her reasoning for diverting in the smaller details. Adelia and her unorthodox collection of loved ones have been a delight to meet and I recommend their adventures highly.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
I’ve reviewed all the earlier books in this series MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH, THE SERPENT’S TALE and RELICS OF THE DEAD (aka GRAVE GOODS)
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4/5
Narrator Diana Bishop
Publisher Random House/AudioGO [This edition 2011, original edition 2010]
Length 10 hours 52 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #4 in the Mistress of the Art of Death/Adelia Aguilar series
Source I bought it
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