THE DEATH MAZE is the second instalment of Adelia Aguilar adventure in the realms of Henry II. As was described in the first book, Adelia is a sort of forensic doctor originated from Salerno who was assigned for a job in England under the order of William of Sicily by request of Henry II. After solving her first set of murders, she was made to stay by Henry II—someone who knows his asset—and decided to move to the fenland with Gyltha and a new dog, Ward.
Also, in this book, the Queen, Eleanor d’Aquitaine, made an appearance. I have always pictured Eleanor d’Aquitaine with flowing green gown and golden hair. I’m not sure where I get this depiction, but certain she would appear that way to me during the period described in THE DEATH MAZE.
One more thing: I read the UK version of this book and not the US version. I have no idea what’s the story behind the decision to publish this book with a different title in the US. Certainly, I think THE DEATH MAZE is a perfect title that encapsulates the storytelling. But I don’t know what to expect from this story because sometimes, like film sequels, the second can be worse than the first one.
The Death Maze: Storyline
Apart from main characters, the focus of THE DEATH MAZE is one Rosamund Clifford, who lived ca. 1150 to her death in 1176. This is not an imagined character, though her date of death slightly differs from reality to match with the timeline of Adelia’s adventures in England. Miss Rosamund was a mistress of Henry II, favoured over Queen Eleanor who was then imprisoned by the King in various locations in England. Dear Rosie died suspected by poisoned mushroom. People of course jumped into the easiest assumption that Queen Eleanor must have done it out of jealousy.
But… ‘tis not how this story went down. I mean, I think nobody actually knows how she got poisoned—or maybe I hadn’t read the historical sources completely. But however she was poisoned, the point is she’s dead, Eleanor was the main suspect, and Adelia must make sure who is the real culprit.
The feared effect of if Eleanor did poison Rosamund or ordered Rosamund to be poisoned, there would be a mutiny from the King’s sons who sided with their mother and claim the throne which might lead to another civil war as that of Stephen and Matilda in 1139. I am guessing that the whole story was based on the known legendary version of this act of poisoning as written in Mazes and Labyrinths, by W. H. Matthews (1922: 165-169) complete with the labyrinth, the tower, etc.
I am not sure where exactly Rosamund’s burial is today but she was (finally) buried in Godstow Nunnery that used to house Benedictine nuns. The abbey itself did not survive Henry VIII’s Dissolution Act of 1539 when he stupidly (my word, not any historian’s) disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries, in England, Wales and Ireland. The remains of Godstow Abbey is currently listed as Scheduled Monument in Historic England. There are several other novels that mention or feature Godstow Abbey, so I’ll be sure to talk more about it later.
Based on the extra readings I did, I think the exact grave is now lost somewhere in the grounds of Godstow Abbey, although when Paul Hentzner visited the site in 1599 noted to have read an epitaph from a possible gravestone of Rosamund Clifford which reads: “Hic jacet in tumbâ Rosamundi non Rosamunda, Non redolet sed olet, quæ redolere solet.” Naunton, Robert. 1892.
There is a new addition of character in THE DEATH MAZE: little Allie—Almeisan, Adelia’s daughter with Rowley who is now the Bishop of St Albans. No, I won’t explain the drama and intrigues leading to this decision, you would have to read the book for it. It’s weirdly romantic but also a practical decision, remembering I chose the same as Adelia—I can relate too much to her. Allie made her debut appearance as an eight-month-old darling who rides a horse with Adelia in a cocooned bag.
In this book, Queen Eleanor didn’t react the way I’d imagined as a person accused to have poisoned someone. I certainly can relate to the satisfaction of seeing the King’s mistress death, but I knew from the start she is not the one to blame here. There must be a third-party who wished to benefit from the situation of her imprisonment and the King’s preference towards Rosamund. And I did have my suspicions in several characters.
Another character who was suspected as the culprit who poisoned Rosamund is her closest maid, Dakers. The portrayal of this character is a little bit bewildering. I’m not sure she acted the way she did because she has romantic feelings towards Rosamund or she’s very, very, very loyal to Rosamund. It’s open to interpretation, of course. Other than my interest in following the development of the main characters, I have no ability to relate or empathise with the other characters.
All in all, I don’t feel content with THE DEATH MAZE. I feel the story is too tame, too political, too sombre—although, it is a good continuation of Adelia’s adventures in England. Perhaps it’s just the topic that puts me off the track with the story.
I haven’t a clue how to categorise THE DEATH MAZE theme. I read THE DEATH MAZE immediately after I finished MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH and hoping to find more exciting adventures in this book. Perhaps I hoped too much. This book is much about greed than death. I didn’t feel that Adelia’s expertise was used enough in this book. Rosamund is dead, she was poisoned, and done.
I gave this a 4-star on Goodreads. One note, though. I noticed that Adelia has the same ritual as I did before speaking with the dead. We say prayers, and we ask permissions. I also noticed this in the Canadian TV series The Coroner. I don’t know why I ask permission—perhaps, it’s just the proper thing to do, since I’m already ransacking their eternal sleep. Prehistoric or historic remains doesn’t matter—I still ask permission.
All in all, I don’t feel content with THE DEATH MAZE. I feel the story is too tame, too political, too sombre—although, it is a good continuation of Adelia’s adventures in England. Perhaps it’s just the topic that puts me off the track with the story. Nevertheless, I still like to read the follow-up on the development of the main characters.
I have a feeling that Mansur actually is besotted by Gyltha. Let’s see how this one goes… They’re going to be the odd couple: a eunuch and a 50-year-old fenwoman. Not judging… I told you they’re going to be a cute couple. I’ll see you on the next book review—hopefully, it’s Relic of the Dead, the third book.