Spoiler alert: this is the third book in a series. This review might provide information about a storyline you have not yet finished in a previous book. Please be warned.
With the third installation of the Mistress of the Art of Death stories, you know you're going to get a good story. You know you'll see a few of the usual suspects.
But what you have no idea what Adelia will face this time.
Each of Ariana Franklin's Mistress books have been different. The rhythm and language is the same, the characters don't betray you — but the story, the "meat and potatoes" of the book, is different.
In Grave Goods, we start out in Glastonbury, the mystical abbey also known as Avalon. Yes, that Avalon. Someone is being buried, only we don't know who — or, really, when. The world has opened up with a terrible earthquake and no one can trust their senses, let alone the earth under their feet.
A couple of decades later, Glastonbury is still trying to put itself back together. So is Henry II, the monarch trying to quell a Welsh uprising. He finds himself in need of Adelia again. The Brits are a superstitious lot, especially the Welsh who believe in the mystical and can weave a tale that makes it all seem true. Henry, however, needs the truth, rather than the fantastic tapestry the Welsh are weaving). The king seeks it from the only person who will give it to him.
In the meantime, Adelia is busy trying to find a way to save the people of the fen — but avoid being called a witch. As strange as it seems, even after two novels, but as we noted before, the Brits are a superstitious lot — and not one to cotton to anything that isn't literally translated from the New Testament. Women as doctors? Women as people? Pshaw. She is surrounded by people she loves and trusts, but it's not enough. Rowley, however, could make it enough, and yet this bishop is as impossible to move as the doctor.
Thus Henry beckons.
As much as she would like to refuse him, she can't. In the end, she wouldn't, anyway — her obligation is to the dead, and helping them speak.
This time it takes her into the path of someone from her past: Emma, whom we met in The Serpent's Tale. Only it's not just Emma anymore, and the young girl whose live was changed forever has yet more change in store. She is taking care of what is hers, and if it means facing a daunting woman she has never cast eyes upon, then so be it. Some things are more important than a wild, frightened girl.
But in Henry's England, nothing is that easy.
This is a wild England, full of cut-throats and thieves. It is a land in transition, where ancient rites and challenges are beginning to give way to more modern ideas and speculation — but not too quickly or easily in the lands far from London, and certainly not in the mystical land of Glastonbury. (And even less so in within the walls of the Church.)
The strength of the story is not the storyline, though that is compelling and fascinating. What carries the story, as always, are the characters. Adelia cannot be other than what she is, and her true nature always shines through. She is faced by the intelligent and the ignorant people, and those people don't line up the way one expects.
In the end, Franklin again created a wonderful world with incredible people and a great story. Run, don't walk, to the bookstore and pick up all three novels. Read them in order, if you can. And enjoy.