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The Alchemist's Daughter (Bianca Goddard Mystery Book 1) Kindle Edition
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Plague is a near constant threat in Tudor London, and can spread rapidly. When a merchant ship is quarantined, there are rumours. And when outbreaks of pestilence spread, there’s an urgent demand for rat poison. Bianca’s friend Jolyn seeks her assistance for painful abdominal cramps, and dies suddenly after drinking tea at Bianca’s. Not surprisingly, Bianca is accused of murder. While Bianca believes that someone was poisoning Jolyn, Constable Patch believes Bianca responsible. Can Bianca find out how Jolyn was killed, and by whom?
Bianca, with the aid of her boyfriend John and the colourful Meddybemps, tries to find the truth. Is Jolyn’s death connected to her work for Mrs Beldam at Barke House? And why are so many people after Jolyn’s lucky ring? Bianca needs to investigate carefully and quickly: Constable Patch is determined to bring her to justice. She suggests jealousy as a motive, to which Constable Patch replies:
‘Another lover’, Patch groaned. ‘How pedestrian.’
I had trouble imagining Patch actually saying ‘How pedestrian’, but that’s okay. There are a number of different threads, a few red herrings and a lot of rats in this story. Ms Lawrence depicts the squalor and the hardship well. I can hear the rats(!) and smell the waste. The setting is well described, the story moves at a quick pace and while some aspects are less believable than others, Bianca Goddard is an interesting character. I understand that this is the first novel in a series of mysteries, and I’ll be looking out for the next one.
Note: I was offered, and accepted, an electronic copy of this novel for review purposes.
Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews
Genre: Women’s literature, Historical fiction
I like the Tudor period in history, and this books brings it vividly to live. Not the richness of the Courts and moneyed classes, but the dark, grimy underbelly of those grubbing and scrabbling to survive daily in the poverty that most of the London lived in. I was disappointed that though Bianca is the daughter in the title, she abhorred the word alchemy, and thus there was little actual reference to it in the novel itself. I was expecting more, and its a subject that was very prevalent in “science” at the time and that fascinates me and was one of the draws to this novel. Still, it’s an interesting read, brings the time period to life vividly and is at times stomach churning ( the rats)....
I loved Bianca, a very strong, forthright character. John wants to marry her but she feels she can’t fit in to the Wife and Mother mould, without leaving her beloved experiments. That’s a part of who she is, though I feel John accepts that and wouldn’t expect her to drop everything. Never the less for now she’s still single, and poor John is still waiting – that’s about the extent of their romance in this book. Maybe later ones will take it further? There are some fabulous characters here, well drawn and who feel very true to the period. The story bases around the death of Bianca’s friend, and how Bianca needs to solve who killed her as she faces being hanged for the murder. It takes us on a winding tale, bringing in more murders and mysteries, blackmailing and bribery, smuggling and skulduggery– that seems to have been a way of life in this period, and takes us on a twisted journey before all is revealed.
Like other reviewers I wondered if I’d missed some kind of prequel featuring Bianca’s parents and the poisoning accusation, but there isn’t one even though this incident is referred to many times, and is one of the lynchpins of Bianca’s hate of the word Alchemy. Which brings us to that subject and how disappointed I was that there wasn’t more than simply that dislike of hers in the book. I’d have loved a bit more description about her remedies too – but that’s just a personal thing, I find mediaeval remedies fascinating, dead mice tied in a scarf for a sore throat, mercury to cure syphilis – that kind of weirdness! The mystery itself is fairly simple, but takes us on quite a twisting journey before we get to the true story. I’m still a bit puzzled even after finishing by the Rat Man who is at the beginning and the end....
Stars: Four, a fun read and a vivid portrayal of everyday life for the underclasses in this period of history.
ARC supplied by publishers
The book begins with the `Rat Man' skulking along the Thames looking for rats to devour - all of which is described in excruciating detail. How he is germane to the story is never explained.
The `Alchemist's Daughter' Bianca Goddard is not herself an alchemist - she is a `chemiste' happily mixing up her herbal concoctions in her "Medicinals and Physickes" room.
Her friend Jolyn comes to her for medicine to help her stomach trouble and after taking Bianca's medicine Jolyn promptly keels over dead. Bianca determines that Jolyn has been poisoned.
Bianca is the obvious suspect so she must now find the true culprit before she is arrested.
A good, if not original, idea for a mystery. However, it is the vile, abhorrent, foul descriptions of 1543 London - which may or may not be accurate, that I found repulsive.
Rats are used in abundance, I suppose, to create an atmosphere but when something is used overmuch it tends to lose its value.
"Hundreds of vermin hissed and ripped off skin, crawled and sated themselves. Some yanked while others pulled. The bodies jerked and their limbs moved as the vermin tore them apart, feeding like maggots." (pg. 167)