Relics of the Dead (also published as Grave Goods in the US) is the second selection for my face to face book club this month (we meet on Sunday) and I’m also counting it as my third book towards the Historical Fiction Challenge. I’ve actually read more than 3 historical books this year but I’ve used those for other challenges.
The book opens in 1154 as an earthquake engulfs Glastonbury Abbey and a dying monk sees people lowering a coffin into a fissure created in the earth. Did the coffin contain the body of the legendary King Arthur, long-thought to be merely sleeping in the nearby hills until his people need him again? Twenty-two years later the monk’s nephew, who was present as his uncle died, shares the information with King Henry II who has just quashed one Welsh rebellion and is desperate to rid himself of the legend of Arthur lying in wait to rise again. There has been a fire at Glastonbury Abbey and Henry orders the coffin to be dug up. He then commands the one person in his kingdom who has the skills to authenticate the bones as Arthur’s. Adelia Aguilar, the doctor who can ‘read bones’, reluctantly agrees to attempt to determine the age of the bones. With her daughter and faithful attendants she travels to Glastonbury, travelling part of the way with Lady Emma Wolvercote and her party who are on their way to lay claim to Lady Emma’s estate. Later, Adelia discovers she did not make it to her destination. Or did she?
As with the previous two books in this series, Relics of the Dead is first and foremost a good old-fashioned adventure full of brave Knights performing feats of derring-do while less noble souls engage in more prosaic acts. The legend of Arthur and Guinevere is woven artfully into the story unfolding around Adelia in the present day and there’s barely a moment for the reader to catch her breath with several action-packed threads playing out at once.
All of this is accompanied by engrossing information about the historical period, so you feel like you’re learning something while being thoroughly entertained. Under her real name (Diana Norman) Franklin has researched and written extensively about Henry II and her affection for the man is evident in this book. His faults are talked about, but Franklin generally tends to highlight his foresight and modern thinking by introducing such things as trial-by-jury and other innovations. Having read three of these books now, I’m beginning to develop my own crush on Henry Plantagenet.
Although some people argue that Adelia is an unbelievable character for her time, Franklin makes a a good case that women in her situation would have had more scope to fend for themselves than the true upper class women that Adelia sometimes mixes with. And even if she is not entirely credible for her time, she’s wonderful: strong, loving, loyal and smart. Her loyal attendants from the previous books, Mansur and Gyltha, are again excellent in their supporting roles and of course the Bishop of St Albans, the father of Adelia’s child, makes another trouble-filled appearance. There are some unforgettable new characters in this tale too, not least of which is the old woman who runs the Pilgrim’s Inn at which Adelia and her party stay while in Glastonbury. Franklin is a dab hand at developing very strong, memorable characters quite quickly.
Sadly Diana Norman passed away earlier this year and I have not heard of any unpublished manuscripts lying about so I only have one last book in this series to read, which I think I shall save for some time. I thoroughly recommend this installment of the series to anyone who loves getting absorbed in well-written adventures full of memorable characters.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4.5/5
Author website http://www.arianafranklin.com/
Publisher Bantam Press 
Length 251 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Book Series #3 in the Adelia Aguilar/Mistress of the Art of Death series
Source I bought it