I suppose it shouldn’t come as any surprise that as I’ve started to read more widely in genre fiction (historical mysteries, kid lit, etc.) in recent years, I’ve found myself delving into series far more than I used to. In the last week I’ve read two series installments: Sea of Monsters, the second in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series for kids and A Murderous Procession, the fourth and latest in Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series. Both of them are available at the Key West Library. In both cases, I liked the books the best of the series so far (OK in Riordan’s case that’s only two) but I was pleasantly surprised because I enjoyed but wasn’t wowed by The Lightning Thief, the first in that series. As is becoming usual, my respect for J.K. Rowling grows every time I read another magical/fantastical book meant for young readers. And I am realizing that a lot of the time I struggle with the first-person voice in kid lit. Suzanne Collins pulls it off in The Hunger Games — but it really limits the perspective of the narration and means the writer has to really nail an authentic voice for a kid. Both tough conditions, but I think Riordan is improving at least based on reading two of the books. Sea of Monsters gets an AB.
Ariana Franklin’s books are pretty popular and I’d like to think it’s more than a case of CSI-meets-Lion in Winter. Our heroine, Adelia Aguilar, is a Sicilian physician who winds up in Henry II’s England (both Henry and my old favorite Eleanor of Acquitaine make appearances in the series — though I’m fond of them not from the scenery-chewing A Lion in Winter but from E.L. Konigsberg’s superb kids’ book A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver). Anyway, Aguilar is called into the king’s service as an investigator to determine how people died — the 12th century equivalent of a coroner, or Mistress of the Art of Death. In the latest installment, she’s not supposed to be investigating murders but safeguarding the health of Henry and Eleanor’s daughter, Joanna, on her way to Sicily to marry that island’s king. Naturally, murders occur en route and lots of other adventures, too. I have just about no historical knowledge of the time period and imagine purists cringe at some of the events in the book, not to mention the dialogue but it would be hard to write (or read!) a novel in authentic 12th century speech supposing we knew what such a thing was. What matters to me is that Franklin tells a good story with some interesting subjects to think about along the way (the nature of love between independent adults, the role of the Church in medieval society). And she did a good job distracting me with a red herring for the villain, which is always nice. (No Scooby-Doo moment, either!). Best of the series yet and I hope she writes many more. A