Tudor Alchemy

Title: The Alchemist’s Daughter by Mary Lawrence
Publisher: Kensington Books
304pp April 28, 2015
Genre: Mystery, historical mystery, Tudor England, series, Henry VIII
4 stars****
Author: Mary Lawrence is a cytologist, who also berry farms in Maine. She enjoys reading and writing in the Tudor period: this is the first of a planned three mystery series featuring Blanca Goddard. She was also a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart contest and won the Golden Claddagh in historical fiction (2010). She was also a finalist in Gotham YA Novel discovery contest (2010). Fiona Buckley recommended this mystery so I decided to read this new author. I found the book to be well written and researched with layered intricate plotting. I also enjoyed numerous proverbs “It’s hard to shake a spider out of its web.” “…as drunk as a mouse in a barrel of rum.” “Coin speaks louder than virtue here.” “Seems like a mountain of effort for a pebble of worth.” I loved the vocabulary but also “some I simply made up.” I am looking forward to the continuation of this series.
Note: I could find 5 other recent novels with this title by authors JE Deardon, Anthony Aiden, Eileen Kernaghan, Katherine McMahon and Elaine Knighton.
Story Line:
The story is told from multiple viewpoints, which presents additional perspectives on both the plot and the locations. It has an interesting mix of misfit friends, vividly portraying ordinary Tudor life. There are no Courts here. Blanca is the estranged daughter of an alchemist (Albern Goddard), a devout Catholic and somewhat shady character. She saved him from the gallows when he was suspected of poisoning the King. Details of this story would be fascinating, but also gave her the experience to save herself. She works in Southwark slums to aid the poor with her herbs and medicinal plants. She’s altruistic and known for her kindness, remedies and healing discoveries (a salve to tame the French pox enabled her to get a room of her own; she also created a rat poison to help control the plagues and squalor). She’s unconventional, smart, strong and an appealing heroine. She is also young and unsure of herself. When her friend Jolyn dies, seemingly from one of her tonics, she is an instant suspect. The constable (Patch) is perhaps the only character I didn’t like- he wants her to hang whether she is guilty or not. As she tries to clear her name, bodies and larger plots provide twists in the tale. It is filled with witty observations on the grim reality of 16th century London.
Read On:
Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series
Vanora Bennett Portrait of an Unknown Woman
Goes perfectly with PBS Wolff Hall
(Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies)
Also recently reviewed Martin Lake A Love most Dangerous and Kathy Lynn Emerson Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe.
Opening line: London March 1543. Imagine a time when the good king’s ship The Mary Rose moors within sight of His Majesty’s WhiteHall residence, its four masts reaching skyward like trees sprouting on the River Thames.
Closing line: …London would forever struggle, but she would forever endure.
She studied the remnants of crushed herbs, mashed frog bones, and pulverized chalk; her blue eyes were tinged nearly purple with fatigue.
A public hanging was preferable to being eaten alive by rats.
For if only one man is left standing, a bribe cannot bite.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley: Thanks!


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