Adelia, a doctor and mistress of the art of death (someone who performs autopsies) has been ordered by King Henry II of England to accompany his daughter Joanna to Sicily and act as her doctor. Adelia is devastated, as it means leaving her young daughter behind and such a journey could take months, maybe even longer. Adelia can't even say she is a doctor. A female doctor is unacceptable in England. Adelia must pretend that her trusted friend Mansur is the doctor, and she is only carrying out his instructions. However, Mansur often falls under suspicion as well, being an Arab.
The traveling party carries on innocently enough, until strange things begin to happen. First Adelia's horse is poisoned. Then a knight she was angry with is killed during a boar hunt. Then the washerwomen she fought with is found drowned. It seems that someone is trying to cast suspicion on Adelia. But who could it be?
Oh it was so good! So good! This is the fourth book in the Mistress of the Art of Death series, and they have all been this good. I would suggest reading them in order, but you don't have to, they stand on their own just fine. There's enough exposition at the beginnings to catch a reader up if they haven't read the previous books, but not so much it gets annoying for those who have read them all.
Besides being exciting and thrilling and you don't know who the murderer is (I was totally, totally wrong. I thought I had it, and I was SO wrong.), the language is beautiful and you get such a clear picture of what the world is like. Adelia is frustrated at having to pretend she isn't a doctor, when she knows she a better doctor than all the men. She knows she can save people by doing things that the Church forbids, and it drives her crazy.
I like that at the end of the book, there's information about each of the historical characters, so you can get some perspective on their actual lives and understand what was changed to make it work with the story. I think Ariana Franklin and Ellis Peters, who wrote the Brother Cadfael books would get along very well.
You're writing another one, right Ariana? We have to know what happens to Rowley. You wouldn't leave it like that, right? There has to be more coming. We share a name (although we spell it differently), help a girl out!