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A MURDEROUS PROCESSION
by Ariana Franklin
Putnam, April 2010
352 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 0399156283


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Adelia Aquilar, the Salerno-trained female doctor and examiner of dead bodies, and her companion Mansur have been ordered by King Henry II of England to accompany his daughter the Princess Joanna on her journey to Palermo to wed King William of Sicily. They are not well-received by the other members of the traveling party. As the journey progresses, it becomes obvious that someone in the party wants to harm Adelia. She and her lover Rowley must uncover the danger before it is too late.

On the way Adelia and Mansur encounter some Cathars, members of a religious sect the Catholic Church considers heretics. The two are hunted through wild and uninhabited lands. They are forced to witness a woman burned at the stake. Adelia is accused of being a witch. Throughout all of these trials, Adelia, frightened, angry, and sometimes lonely, continues to treat the sick and comfort the despondent using science and truth as she was taught.

The story is powerful and compelling. The reader identifies with Adelia and fears for her safety. The excitement and the tension build from the first page until the very end of the book and the reader is rapidly drawn into the allure of the story and the intrigue of the journey.

The characters are believable and realistic with the exception of the villain who is all evil and mad to boot. But Adelia is a plausible character. Some have complained that a woman would never have been taught to be a doctor in the twelfth century, but history tells us that there was at least one and that the School of Medicine at Salerno had female students. She is passionate, driven, stubborn, and sees everything in terms of truth and science. She cannot understand those who act from bias or prejudice. Rowley is believable as well, a powerful man, a bishop, one who is also passionate as well as loyal to both his king and his mistress. Henry II, the king who really created the nation of England, is wise, canny, parsimonious, and very judicious. Eleanor, his queen, on the other hand brings beauty and culture to her domain of Aquitaine before she marries Henry and then joins her sons in rebellion against him.

Equally this history is intriguing and accurate. Henry II did make England into a well-managed kingdom. Sicily was a melting pot of different religions and peoples, where those who hated each other in different parts of the world lived harmoniously and at peace. Aquitaine was a languorous land of loves and troubadours. For those who are interested there is an afterword in which the author gives the facts about the events which form the backdrop for this story.

There is a sense of foreboding, both for Adelia who is in danger every time she practices her vocation and for the almost idyllic society of Sicily which will be overtaken by the intolerant and the narrow-minded who cannot stand letting others believe differently from them. Adelia will always walk in danger of being assailed or censured because she is a woman and because she presumes to be a healer.

This book shows much of the evil and the wickedness of the world in which the story unfolds, as well as the good things that are happening. It is not a polemic, however. Most of the time the author is not trying to force the reader to believe but lets the story speak for itself and the events to persuade. It is intriguing and compelling and very difficult to put down.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, April 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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