As many of you know, I have a weakness for historical mysteries. I adore them and can’t get enough. However, so many of them are written during Victorian or Edwardian era England that often the books blend together, no matter how well written they are.
That’s why this book set itself apart for me….it’s set in Tudor England. When I think of historical mysteries, I don’t think of Tudor England as an optimal setting, but rather a period full of obstacles to detecting/investigating, so I was eager to see how the author used this to her advantage.
I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, so I was a little wary of reading this book with already 4 books into the series. However, the author assured me that it could read as a standalone book.
Spring 1544 Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he’s discovered–one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he implores his daughter to help.
Soon after, a woman’s body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her mouth. Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. When her husband John is conscripted into King Henry’s army to subdue Scottish resistance, finding the stone becomes a matter of life and death. Bianca must unravel the interests of alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels–to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death (summary from Goodreads).
This book immediately drops you into an odd story. A boy witnesses a meeting between two men who discuss his alchemy and kind of sets the stage for this mystery. I don’t know much about alchemy but I know that it’s heavily cloaked in mystery and I loved how the story opens with this odd form of science. I loved how this story began with a little hook and insight into the world of alchemy as well as the criminal underworld, as it really set the tone for the story to come.
We then get to meet the protagonist Bianca who is pregnant and worried that her husband will be conscripted off to fight in King Henry’s wars in Scotland. I liked Bianca from the first introduction. She seemed strong, independent, and more than capable as a heroine. I also loved her sharp tongue and sass! She seemed liked she really knew herself and that drew me to her immediately. While the author gave the reader plenty of background info on each of the characters and their lives, I did feel compelled to go back and read the other Bianca books because she was such a likable and interesting character.
One of the things that stood out to me in this book was the portrayal of life in Tudor England. Rather than taking on the courtly life that’s so common in books, the author went with the common people and I loved it. She has clearly researched her period as well as the gritty villains in this book. She captured the feel of the people and period very well and I was fully engaged in the setting as well as the characters.
I also liked how there were several possible suspects all with means and motive to keep me guessing until the end of the story. I thought the mystery part coupled with all the historical details made this one a treat to read. The only thing that I felt was a little difficult for me was all of the characters and some of the period language, but overall I felt like this was a fun historical mystery and I was thrilled to discover a new heroine and new mystery series. I would gladly continue reading this series and go back to read the others. I would also agree with the author’s assurances……this book can easily be read as a standalone! She does a wonderful job orientating the reader in the story.