‘The Death Maze’ is a historical thriller written by English journalist-cum-author Ariana Franklin who was born in Dover and quit her job as a journalist after getting married, and it was at this point that she immersed herself in the study of medieval history, which in turn inspired her to write her first book, ‘Mistress of the Art of Death’, which introduced Adelia Aguilar. This book won her critical acclaim and the prestigious CWS Ellis Peters Historical Award. ‘The Death Maze’ proves to be a befitting sequel to the same based in twelfth century England, at a time when corruption was rampant in the Church as well as the courtrooms of the King.
‘The Death Maze’ is a sequel to Franklin’s earlier book ‘Mistress of the Art of Death’, and traces the story of Adelia Aguilar, a Sicilian anatomist, reknown for her skill in unfolding the secrets of the dead(referred to in the book as ‘the doctor of the dead’). She is called by King Henry II to investigate the cause of his beloved mistress Rosamund Clifford. All fingers of suspicion point to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the King’s wife, who is believed to have murdered Rosamund in a fit of jealousy. If Eleanor’s guilt is proven, as is widely believed, all England will have to bear the brunt of a fierce civil war between their King and Queen. Adelia has the difficult task of averting this disaster by proving Eleanor’s innocence and uncovering the truth, amidst an atmosphere of conspiracy and subsequent murders by a mysterious assassin, who is tracking her every move. She also has to make her way through the impenetrable labyrinth that surrounds Rosamund’s tower and use her skills to decipher the reasons for her death. She must protect her companions, the old but wise Gyltha and the stoic Mansur, along with her little baby Allie, from the wrath of her rapidly growing group of enemies.
It is a fast-paced book, which has unexpected twists and turns on the way and keeps the reader on the tenterhooks throughout. Ariana’s description of the climax scene livens up the entire plot, and full credit to the enthralling visuals it brings to the mind. The story starts on a note of imminent danger, which lurks around as the story gains pace and moves forward, till the end, when the identity of the assassin comes as a rude shock to the readers.
The book also highlights many social customs prevalent in twelfth century England such as the subjugation of women, the rampant corruption in the Church, seen as the protector of religion and the use of women only as objects of desire. It also reflects the plight of Adelia, a highly educated and liberated woman, who is forced to masquerade as a nurse to her Arabic companion Mansur, or be termed as ‘a witch practicing witchcraft’. It gives us a glimpse into England’s history and what life was like for the royals, the priests and the commoners.
‘The Death Maze’ is a perfect blend of fact with fiction, and is very craftfully written, reflecting sheer genius. It is based on a unique theme, and is a must read for all those who have a penchant for learning about the past and are looking for thrills in the same.