England, 1170. After the Catholics of Cambridge turn into a riotous mob because they believe that the Jews are to blame for the particularly horrific murder of a child, Henry II finds himself in a bit of a bind. As all of the Cambridge Jews are now living in Cambridge castle (for protection), he's losing much needed tax revenue. Also, it's clear that they are innocent.
So he contacts the King of Sicily, and asks for a "master of the art of death".
And the King of Sicily complies. Sort of. He sends Simon, an investigatory genius -- who happens to be Jewish; Mansur, a Saracen castrato; and Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, a Mistress of the Art of Death.
Of course, in England, publicly admitting to being a female doctor is an impossibility. So the three companions set up shop in Cambridge, with Mansur standing in as the doctor and Adelia as his translator and assistant. And the investigation begins.
Well, I'm in love. After finishing this one, I pulled Ye Olde Babble at the library. Patrons had to listen to me yap on at length about how much I loved it and about how now I was all curious about Henry II and about the medical school at Salerno and about how if the library didn't get Ariana Franklin's other books, I was JUST. GOING. TO. DIE*.
The writing was lovely and evoked especially vivid images in my mind (though not always pretty ones), and it brought me to another time and place. Adelia's status and perspective as an outsider in England allowed for plenty of musing on the culture of the time -- she noticed and thought about things that a Cambridge native probably would have taken for granted, and that, I think, added to the richness of the description and world building. I cared about the characters very much, and found that even most of the secondary characters became real to me, the plotting surprised me again and again, and for me, best of all, I was really, really emotionally invested -- there was one specific section that had me deliriously happy until Something Bad Happened. And I said, "Oh." (Out loud, though I was alone in the house). And then I had to put the book down, get up, drink a glass of water and compose myself. Only then could I dive back in.
So thanks so much to Elizabeth and Arlene for the recommendation. Good lord. I totally owe the two of you a whoopie pie** or something.
*The director ordered them. Possibly just to shut me up, but I'm not going to complain. Because A) I'm not big on complaining and B) gift horses.
**In college, I discovered that there are many people who don't know what whoopie pies are. Which is just wrong. And sad.
Book source: My local library.