Death and the Maiden (Mistress of the Art of Death)
Readers who adored the captivating Mistress of the Art of Death series written by Ariana Franklin (pen name of prolific historical novelist Diana Norman) were devastated by the author’s untimely death in 2011. Her daughter, journalist and novelist Samantha Norman, was able to complete her mother’s unfinished standalone historical, The Winter Siege, in 2014, but fans were resigned to the fact that the brilliant medieval forensic doctor Adelia’s adventures would be left incomplete.
Norman, however, has managed to create an elegiac sense of closure to the series by expanding her mother’s ideas for the final volume into a satisfying narrative. The wintry setting for the novel is appropriate to Adelia’s struggles to come to terms with her own aging and her daughter’s maturity; Norman, however, honors her mother’s legacy by retaining Adelia’s sharp wit and steely determination. The narrative centers mostly on Adelia’s daughter Almeison, or Allie, who comes into her own as an investigator and healer. The novel also returns to the series’ origins in the mysterious Fenlands of eastern England, and brings back some beloved characters from earlier in the series.
Fans of The Winter Siege will be pleased with the way Norman connects that novel to Adelia’s world and circle of friends; however, those looking for the complex political plotting Franklin did so well might be a little disappointed at the thinness of the plot and the ease with which the reader can guess whodunit long before the characters do. That scarcely detracts, though, from the pleasures of the lived-in world Norman creates through lively description and entertaining dialogue. Her characters’ conversational style is more Regency than medieval (there’s even a sly Austenian callback or two to delight the attentive reader), but Death and the Maiden offers a quick and diverting read for a long, cold winter’s night, and a warm sendoff for a beloved character.