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Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death, #1)
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Lara E Brown (larasaurus) Congratulations to Kristi who suggested the winning book for our 3 year anniversary month!

Read along and share your thoughts here.


message 2: by Ez, The God of Catan (new) - added it

Ez (thevapidwench) | 287 comments Mod
If anyone is interested in the period and wants a very quick crash course via Hollywood, the 1969 film Beckett staring Burton and O'Toole is interesting homoerotic viewing.

O'Toole's Henry II barely contains his desire for close buddy Thomas ap Beckett played by Burton,who spends most of the film as an unimpressed walking definition of the Friendzone.


message 3: by Ez, The God of Catan (new) - added it

Ez (thevapidwench) | 287 comments Mod
I'd also recommend Terry Jones' tv series (and book) Medieval Lives. You can find most of the series on YouTube. Funny and informative.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Look at you with all the recommended reading/watching. I feel like I'm learning too much in this book club ;)


message 5: by Ez, The God of Catan (last edited Jul 24, 2016 03:39AM) (new) - added it

Ez (thevapidwench) | 287 comments Mod
Adelia. Adelia. Adelia! Mistress Aguliar is one of the more strident protagonists we've encountered - not to mention anachronistic. There'll be more on that in the hangout, no doubt. I thought I'd take a moment to indulge in a bit of deconstruction.

Adelia’s view of herself: her role as an anatomist is all encompassing; it informs not only her professional choices, her views on life, but also her seemingly strict commitment to avoidant virginity, a concept which in itself is as unusual as her role as an anatomist - though a bit hackneyed when it comes to romance plots (no man could ever tame her, etc, etc). One quick tangent ahoy; medieval virginity is not quite the same as abstinence from penetrative sex - being 'untouched' encompassed a more metaphysical role and rarified position, than just being a single, unmarried lady. For more information on the vagaries of virginity and its role as a social construct see Hanne Blank’s very excellent Virgin: An Untouched History. Adelia's mutterings on her own virginity is one of MotAoD's less noticeable anachronisms, but... anyway, to the point!

Mistress Aguilar is very busy with the construction and refinement of her own identity; she's hyper aware of how others see her with a self obsession almost borders on the point of psychological narcissism, That's understandable in the circumstances, not to mention the fact that all doctors have egos - you wouldn't be able to treat patients without one. Nevertheless hearing Adelia's inner narrator bang the drum can become tedious. There's only so much self aggrandizement a reader can stomach, even if it is warranted.

However, I'd like to posit a theory. Yes, we are repeatedly informed that Adelia’s gender informs her role as a doctor even as she shirks the traditional obligations of a woman’s role in medieval society. Yes, the sisters are doing it for themselves (wooho!) but I would also argue that this repeated emphasis is deliberate on the part of the author, not only to hammer home the uniqueness of Adelia’s situation, but as a reaction to the persistent literary and historical trope of women being too modest to own up to any learning. Furthermore it is a deliberate counterbalance to the ‘unwomaning’ of 12th Century contemporary female medieval physicians, namely Trota of Salerno, possible authoress of the Trotula texts - a codified set of medical documents concerning female health.

Trota of Salerno is a fascinating study. You can read that she was a noble 'magistera' and chair of medicine at Salerno, or, alternatively, that the lady was a virtual nobody; someone who's name has been mistakenly appended to the Trotula: just when she's all but written out of history, the Trotula is in fact edited to turn her into a man.

12th C medical texts? Pshaw! Of course they *must* be written by a learned medieval dude, because no woman could possibly break with convention and practise medicine in her own right - nor find time between popping out kids to write down a couple of notes on gynaecology. I make no excuses for the slathering of cynicism or feminism that liberally butters that statement. Women in history are all too easily obliterated.

There are other female physicians too (though few and far between), German nun by the name of Hildegaard of Bingen would have been a contemporary of Adelia's. In a later biography she’s presented as a self taught mystic possessing little educated Latin but a pharmacological knowledge of plant life and herbs, and whose medical works document the circulation of the blood. Whether this knowledge was aquired by empirical study or, as Theoderick of Esternach, her would be hagiographer, notes, divine inspiration is a matter lost to the ages.

In contrast to these vague, lost women of medicine, Adelia is absolutely self possessed and in charge of her own narrative. She's ahead of her time medically, and yes, seems to dance blithely through the raindrops of heresy, but when compared against the deprivations of history, it's heartening to see a woman's contribution receive just approbation.

.... Even if it is a fictional alternative history at best.

Adelia Aguilar: more than a lady with a big head and a chip on her shoulder.


message 6: by Donovan (new)

Donovan Sotam (DSotam) | 64 comments Mod
Because I had some minor technical difficulties during the hangout? During? hahah, that would mean I was in it... anyway, here's a small review on July's book Mistress of the Art of Death

My main problem was with the main character, Adelia, and just like Ez put in the post, above, the anachronistic aspect of it was just too much and it kept shattering the illusion that I was reading a XII century murder mystery. Especially when she went into her deep, modern (very anti-religious) thoughts. And don't take me wrong, I'm not a religious person, but I'd probably be one in the XII century.
Adding to the fact that she was a single, childless, vegetarian, tolerant (towards other religions, races), feminist, lady highly skilled doctor with a mortal fear of germs even though no such theory existed yet, made me just wished she had been a time traveller instead. It wasn't impossible to be any of this (perhaps, the germophobic bit) in the XII, but all of it, just makes it highly improbable and just ruined the experience of reading a XII century murder mystery. And yes, I've read Ez's post on above theory, but for me, this character in the XII century just didn't do it.
Still I can completely understand people that loved this book and loved this character. Unfortunately I'm not one.

There was also very little "detecteving" going on, not to mention very little art of death. Being in a area where one deals with autopsies/medicine I was hoping for a little more. I'd even forgive some anachronistic techniques/metholody/knowledge.
Basically she (they) found chalk on the children's body and that was it. Even the final, where she goes and find the killer is a deus ex machina of mere luck. If the nuns hadn't appear in a punt, she wouldn't have gone there.

And the romance... like I said very little mistery, too much romance. Wish the book had focused more on the XII aspect, the daily life of people, major events on that period. I can't stop making comparisons with Steven Saylor Roma detective Gordianus. Here, even when there's romance, the focus of the book is always the history/event of Ancient Roman. I heartily recommend this series if you like mysteries and/or the Roman period.

But everything wasn't bad. I did enjoy the writing (bit hard for me, at some points, had to google some words, but still felt it was good). Love the bit about the tax-collector recollecting (pun intended) his crusading days, even if they were fictional, it felt real and historically sound.
Also, enjoyed the very final bit where the King shows up, would have liked to read more/know about him.
And I now know, what a punt is.

And because Aaron doesn't like fractions here's my rating of 14/35 stars.


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