To open the pages of Ariana Franklin’s books is to enter a world that I am partly familiar with—death—and a world that I’d never belong to—the Medieval England. I am in love with Ariana Franklin’s style of exposition, narration, and description of each scene. Sometimes she wrote in Adelia’s or other characters’ voices and I find that Adelia is a noisy scatter-brained person like me. These feelings captured me in the world that Ariana Franklin created. I’m still so saddened that she passed away as I thought that this series could easily be a ten-book or twenty-book deal. There are so many unexplained deaths in the Medieval era which can be the base of Adelia’s adventures. But reality says otherwise. I must be content with only four books, soon-to-be five books, by Ariana Franklin.
RELICS OF THE DEAD is the third instalment of Adelia’s series, still stuck in Henry II’s England. I am still baffled by the decision of publishing this book under a different title of GRAVE GOODS in the US. Perhaps it’s best for me not to know or wonder why. A small note that all dates in this book has been shifted from reality to match with the timeline of Adelia’s stay in England. I still bother to research the original events but won’t fuss much about how they don’t match reality because again—this is a fuckin’ fiction—they don’t need to match reality.
By the title of the book I knew for sure that this one would be more interesting than the second instalment. As you may have guessed, I have a thing with dead people and their wonders—yes, like Adelia. Well, she sometimes expressed her dismay upon examining dead bodies cause she prefers to heal the sick. While the only thing I hated in the process of examining dead bodies is the reports that I have to write afterwards. That task could be deadly boring and time-consuming and not fun at all, but it must be done. Gratefully, I am relieved of those tasks nowadays—no more reports to write but book reviews. I have so much to unpack in this book, therefore it’s going to be a long essay.
RELICS OF THE DEAD took the setting of Glastonbury, in the spirit and theme of Arthurian legends, and the disasters happened to Glastonbury Abbey. See? I knew immediately that I will bathe myself in the enchanting mists of Avalonesque realm and mystery.
The book opens with Brother Caradoc of Glastonbury writings:
“And God was angry with His people of Somerset so that, in the year of Our Lord 1154, on the day after the feast of Saint Stephen, He caused an earthquake that it might punish them for their sins…”RELICS OF THE DEAD, page 1.
Historical reality recorded that there was an earthquake shaking the areas of Somerset in 11 September 1275. The 121 years difference immediately caught my eyes and I tried to find explanation in the Author’s Note section—to which I didn’t find. A whole page of Wikipedia described the event of the earthquake, stating that it was felt in “…London, Canterbury, Winchester and Wales, and may have been felt across the rest of England.” After the earthquake event, a second St Michael’s Church was built in the same site and somehow survived the silly Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Today, what is left for us to see of the second St Michael’s Church was a three-storeyed tower—that pointy thing that we see atop Glastonbury Tor.
The said earthquake in this book then believed to have produced a fissure in the graveyard and Brother Caradoc saw figures lowering a coffin into the fissure. He also claimed that he heard someone mentioned that King Arthur is dead and is now inside the coffin that was being lowered down.
The whole scene was then noted as a vision of Brother Caradoc who was injured when taking shelter in the Church of St Michael, the earliest timber structure built in the 11th or 12th century. He appeared to also have conversations with St Dunstan, the 10th century Abbot of Glastonbury. Brother Caradoc was accompanied by his nephew, Rhys, when he told him of the vision. But Rhys realised that there was no fissure in the graveyard at all when they buried Brother Caradoc the next day. There was no Arthur, at least for the next twenty-four years…
The main plot of the story started when Henry II caught the story of the so-called King Arthur and wanted to have that claim checked by his mistress of the dead, Adelia Aguilar. It was during one of the wars with the Welsh that Henry II caught the story from Rhys, now a prisoner of war, about how his uncle saw a vision about Arthur’s burial site in Glastonbury. Isn’t it great? This premise is so familiar to all of us when the name Arthur is mentioned though the source of the story can be unimportant. So, Henry II wanted Adelia to come out from her fenland home, go to Glastonbury, and examine the assumed bones of Arthur. Why? Assertion of power over the Welsh—as stated in the book—and it makes so much sense.
Once again, Adelia and her entourage (Mansur, Gyltha, Allie, and Ward the Dog) went to Glastonbury right after another big event hit: the fire. In reality, the fire engulfed Glastonbury Abbey in 1184. The silver-lining of the fire was that of the discovery of Arthur’s & Guinevere’s tomb. This discovery is a true story: that there are bones recovered and then assumed or believed to be of Arthur’s and Guinevere’s. I’m still confused on how to interpret stories of the legendary King Arthur and his entourage. Yes, I read MISTS OF AVALON (also in my re-read list) and am fondly familiar with the stories of this particular king. But I think I will leave out the story of Arthur and Guinevere to existing readings available online or in print.
I forgot to mention another secondary character that survived through the previous book: Emma, Lady of Wolvercote. Her debut was in the second book when she was made to marry one Lord Wolvercote who then got hanged cause he forced himself on her and also killed Emma’s truelove. Emma then became a friend of Adelia and claimed Wolvercote as her seat. She had a baby boy called Pippy—Philip who then become friends with Allie and also loves animals. The presence of these two younglings made the story more relatable, more humane.
I am flabbergasted at how Adelia and Mansur was summoned from Cambridge (their home) to go to Glastonbury via Wolvercote (where they’re reunited with Emma) via Wells (where Emma was headed) and then got re-summoned by Henry II to divert to Wales and then arrive at Glastonbury. Even in today’s money, I can’t calculate how much they will spend on train fares alone going back and forth like that. But Henry’s summon must be obeyed, so Adelia got on horseback and ride to Wales with the two-year-old Allie in the saddle—no prams have been used in those days, I guess.
Fast forward, they arrived in Glastonbury, stayed at an inn arranged by the King’s order and started their adventure in determining if the bones are of Arthur and Guinevere. I forgot which chapter it was that Adelia finally got to the bones and started examining it. I found it weird that one of the skeletons had its pelvic bones removed post-mortem, which proved to be a key element to the solving of this case.
Suspects? Yes, I have suspects. Per usual with Ariana’s books or any Medieval mysteries, I look first to greedy Archbishops, monks, bishops, nuns, and then went on to the common people category of suspects. For this book, I missed calculated my suspect(s). I got one right, but didn’t expect the others. So, are those bones of Arthur and Guinevere? Hmm… No, I won’t share spoilers or procedural narratives here, cause you will have to read it yourself. In this case Adelia managed to combine forensic and good ol’ detective work into a perfect mixture until she finished the task and gained a bonus.
I really, really, really liked the theme and the story knitted by Ariana Franklin. I liked how Adelia finally got her hands dirty with examining bones sans the more sophisticated knowledge of today’s forensics. The basics are still the same, the gadgets are what makes it different. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to visit Glastonbury during my stay in the UK. I was more drawn to set foot in Stonehenge which is only an hour drive away. I had the burden to be responsible of dividing my travel and study schedules. This is still a decision I regret–maybe I didn’t spend enough time in the UK.
The ending of this book is much more to my taste, though I miscalculated the suspect as I said. I loved the ending and the overall messages in this book. It is a story of love, of devotion, no matter how treacherous and forbidden it is—love finds a way. I loved the conclusion of the case and how the suspect(s) was(were) reprimanded, it is a beautiful ending that makes my heart full of oww… But—there is one unfinished business which I believe will be carried over to the next book: THE ASSASSIN’S PRAYER.
In my review of THE DEATH MAZE, the second book, I wrote that I didn’t really enjoy the storyline cause it’s too pacifist. RELICS OF THE DEAD’s ending can also be considered as pacifist—nothing gory or bloody about it—but it’s bittersweet, it’s romantic in a dark way. I believe I gave this book a 5-star on Goodreads—can’t remember.
I could have been writing more about extra subjects featured in RELICS OF THE DEAD, such as of lepers, leprosy in the Medieval period, the history of Glastonbury Abbey, blah blah blah. But I know there will be time to write about those in the coming Medieval mysteries books that are in my to-read pile.
Read my other reviews of Ariana Franklin’s books: