Review: Relics of the Dead by Ariana Franklin

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.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Relics of the Dead has been reviewed at Euro Crime and Mysteries in Paradise

I have reviewed the first two books in this series Mistress of the Art of Death and The Serpent’s Tale

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4.5/5
Author website
Publisher Bantam Press [2009]
ISBN 9781409084334
Length 251 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Book Series #3 in the Adelia Aguilar/Mistress of the Art of Death series
Source I bought it

This entry was posted in 2011 Historical Fiction Challenge, Ariana Franklin, book review, England, Wales. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Review: Relics of the Dead by Ariana Franklin

  1. Maxine says:

    Great review, tempts me to read this series although I am not big on historical crime fiction. On the subject of face-to-face book clubs, my friend has a meeting tonight so I asked her what she’d been reading for it – Proust! I suspect you had the better deal (though at least hers is Swann’s Way and not La Recherche…… but I have read Swann’s Way years ago and it is one of those self-regarding male, obsessed with young girl, ones if memory serves).


  2. Bernadette – I’m so glad you liked this one as much as you did. This is such a good series, in my opinion, and every time I think about it, I am so sad that it has ended… Thanks for reminding me, too, that I must get to this one. Soon.


  3. sharon little says:

    Have you read C.J.Sansom? His Tudor mystery series is excellent.Probably best Historicals I’ve ever read,I’m 70,and I’ve read everything and everyone,at some point.


  4. Don Weston says:

    The object of good writing is to get the reader to suspend belief. If she can do that, then the reader will go along for the ride. I’m still trying to get published, but my heroine, Billie Bly, P.I., is also destined to go against the norm. Who knows what a person is truly capable of, until we follow her through her trials and root her on. Good Review. Well written.


  5. @Maxine – eh gads…Proust…I’ll take my bookclub over that any day of the week (one of the things that made me give up studying English Lit. was a lecturer’s obsession with Proust)

    @Sharon not yet – I have Dissolution here to read…am a little daunted by its size but have promised myself I will do it this year.

    @Don how true that an author has to make their readers willing to suspend their natural cynicism and wariness – not an easy task I’m sure


  6. Marg says:

    I think there is one more book that was completed just before she passed away, but there has been no word on whether or not it is an Adelia book, or something else, or even whether it is going to be published or not. I hope it is, because I am a big fan of her writing whether under the Ariana Franklin name, or the straight historicals that she wrote as Diana Norman.


  7. Keishon says:

    I think there is one more book that was completed just before she passed away, but there has been no word on whether or not it is an Adelia book, or something else

    According to my sources, it’s not an Adelia book.

    I find her first book in the Adelia series still to be her best.


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