Ariana Franklin is one of my favorite historical fiction/mystery writers, so given that I devoured her first in this series (Mistress of the Art of Death), I was really looking forward to diving into The Serpent's Tale. And I was not disappointed!
Like a good CSI show, this book keeps you guessing about the guilty party until the end. Even when Adelia figures it out, she doesn't say it (thus letting us readers in) until it's necessary. But beyond the deeper double-mystery driving the plot, there's a delightful attention to detail with the historical fiction side of things. Adelia Aguilar is an exceptional woman- trained at the School of Medicine in Salerno (which did admit female students!) and working in England, she's more analytical and calculating than almost everyone around her. By modern standards, she's an amazing woman. By period standards, she's frightening. But the struggles she must endure, and the broader strokes of church and state power struggles, attitudes toward women, classism, etc. are all beautifully woven into the story, providing an accurate (but not distracting) environment.
In short, I loved it. It was an excellent follow-up to her first novel, and I'm about to dive into the third one (which I think, sadly, is the last Adelia novel). I highly recommend it to fans of Ariana Franklin and the first book. However, if you haven't read the first you can still pick up the second without being lost- there's good exposition in there. If you like medieval historical fiction, strong (intelligent) female characters, good murder mysteries, rural England of the past, political power struggles, the discovery of scientific processes, and good writing....you should definitely pick this one up.