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*** The Author ***
Christie Dickason was brought up in Thailand, Mexico, Switzerland and the USA, the daughter of an English professor, completing her formal education at Harvard and Yale Drama School. She has worked as a theatre director and choreographer, and now, married with children, lives in London.
Her first two novels The Dragon Riders and The Tears of the Tiger, were 20th century political thrillers. These were followed by the trilogy of The Lady Tree, Quicksilver and The Memory Palace, set in the 17th century.
In The Firemaster's Mistres the reader is transported back into the early 17th century England of James I. There is now a sequel to this called The Principessa.
*** Background to Plot ***
Mostly set in London and Brighthemstone (the old name for Brighton in Sussex), the contrast between the capital and seaside settings is evidently even greater than the present day. The geographical, political and social elements of this historical novel are all thoroughly researched. Some London areas that I know well are mentioned, so this enhanced the realism for me. Of the improvements made to modern London, the smells evoked by the author make me most appreciate the better hygiene.
The Firemaster was the name given to an explosives expert. This trade was often passed down through families, and the reader has the opportunity to learn about these skills, or just skip those paragraphs if they are of no interest. Although needed for war, these techniques are also used in peaceful industrial and recreational areas.
Kate Peach was a firemaster's mistress before he left her to fend for herself after he went to war. She carries on making as much money as she can from glove making, which is her family's tradition, but the rewards aren't enough on their own, so she does whatever else is necessary to pay the rent. Inevitably this involves the oldest profession.
The firemaster, who was Kate's lover, is later called upon to uncover a suspected plot back in London, so their paths cross again.
There is more sex than romance in this book, but one of the many unexpected twists near the end of the book should kept romantics happy.
One of the most important relationships for the fictional characters is between Kate and a bear called Caledonian Meg, who was used for baiting. Readers will have to wait until near the book's finale, to find out how the full worth of this relationship was capitalised upon by the person who loved Kate the most.
Like all the important characters in this novel, I felt that I was meeting the star of the real personalities, and master spin doctor, Robert Cecil (Earl of Salisbury, and Secretary of State), in the flesh. Other major historical characters prominent in the plot include Guy Fawkes, his team of plotters, the royal family, Mary Frith (a cross dressing pimp) and the ruthlessly ambitious Sir Francis Bacon.
Sadly this novel illustrates that political intrigue and terrorist activity haven't really changed much from then until the present day.
*** Writing Style ***
Just because this is a female author, don't be fooled into thinking that this is chick-lit in a historical setting. The intrigue in this strong plot should be equally appealing to those of both sexes who enjoy period fiction.
The notes at the beginning and end of the book let the reader know for sure what is fact and fiction.
I believe her style is like a combination of the best of the historical fiction authors C J Samson and Phillippa Gregory, and providing the publicity agents don't let her down, I expect this and the sequel, The Principessa, published in paperback on 1 October 2007, to be as well appreciated by a similar set of fans.
*** Recommendation ***
There aren't many books that I would definitely read again, as I continue to discover new authors that I like, but this is one of the few. This is because of the amount of relevant detail contained in the twisting plot of this extremely well written book.
In my opinion this is excellent historical fiction, combining entertaining strong characters and compulsive storylines with accurate historical detail.
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (2 Oct 2006)
In the troubled year of 1605, Papist plots are rife in the gaudy streets of Shakespeare's London as the fifth of November approaches ! Francis Quoynt, Firemaster, is recently returned from Flanders and dreaming of making fireworks rather than war. Instead, Quoynt is recruited by Robert Cecil, First Minister, to spy on Guido Fawkes and his fellow conspirators. Meanwhile, Sir Francis Bacon is scheming for high position and spying on Quoynt. Kate Peach, a glove maker, was Quoynt's lover before war took him away. Now living in Southwark, she is brought into grave danger. She is a secret Catholic. A fugitive Jesuit is concealed in her rooms. While Francis hopes to prevent the death of King James I and everyone in his parliament, Kate will have to save herself !