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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Clever rather than emotional, a thriller rather than a romance, this is a book belied by its cover. Dickason acknowledges Fraser's book in her afterword and I think the two would be ideal read together: Fraser for the political, religious and historical detail, and Dickason for the fictional take. At some stages I actually felt that Fraser had caught character far better than Dickason, which is a shortfall in the novelist, but that's just my feelling.

This is a book which almost falls into two halves: the first half set in early C17th London (the 'romance' half) and the second set in and around Brighton. Dickason tries to pull both strands of the story together but only manages it by huge coincidences! Still this is an entertaining read that brings in the gunpowder plot, Robert Cecil, Francis Bacon, lost pretenders to the Stuart throne, renaissance espionage and more.

I can't help feeling that Dickason was hugely influenced by Dorothy Dunnett's magisterial Lymond chronicles and perhaps pays a small homage to DD not so much in the plot but in the drivers behind the characters: Francis, and his troubled relationship to his father, with Kate as a Philippa figure (the similarity comes closer with the situation at the end). But the book is her own.

This is an enjoyable light read: nothing too tense, nothing too much at stake (we always know there's going to be a happy ending for the main characters) but it holds the attention and has some twists and turns in the plot.

I always find it very irritating though when historical novelists insist on making their main (pleasant!) characters adopt a C21st sensibility which proves them out of step with their own time: her Francis hates public executions and war, and refuses to sleep with whores, making him a very odd renaissance man (Sansom does the same thing in the Shardlake novels) and while I understand they're doing it to avoid alienating current readers, it jarrs any sense of C17th mores for me.

So altogether a 3-star read with enough pleasures to make me want to read the sequel (The Principessa).
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on 13 September 2005
I read this book based upon the blurb on the back and I wasn't disappointed. Following along the lines of such authors as Phillipa Gregory and Margaret George the author of this novel looks at the possible story of the gunpowder plot. I felt that this novel was well written with a well thought out plot and enjoyed it a great deal as a result.
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on 15 August 2007
I had the pleasure of meeting Christie Dickason at a book launch for The Firemaster's Mistress. I was involved in a show to mark the 400th Anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot at the same venue. After a thought-provoking and enthusiastic discussion about books, plays and history - I couldn't wait to start reading The Firemaster's Mistress. I was captivated from the start and only stopped reading when my eyelids refused to stay open for even one more word!

Historical novels are tricky creatures; any author venturing into the past wields a double-edged sword. On the one side there is a fairly rigid framework of facts and figures, artefacts and documents that provide structure and guidance, on the other side there is absolute freedom to weave a host of imaginary yet wholly believable characters into the framework, but in order to do so the author must step back in time and live and breath the air of the period, feel the cut of the cloth, taste the preservative-free food, and have a mind free of Twenty-First Century luxuries and advancements such as: medicine and healthcare, mobile phones, test messages, email, instant news, clean running water and motorised transport.

Ms Dickason has the heart and spirit of a Bard intertwined with a gloriously empathic ability to dive into the past and to bring it effortlessly into the present. Ms Dickason opens a clear path between centuries taking the reader with her on an exhilarating, poignant, edifying, eloquent, intriguing, journey.

Every twist and turn is expertly developed and beautifully resolved. The characters are so alive and real that the reader is with them every step of the way. The strength of meticulous research illuminates every page without detracting from the potency of the prose and the power of the story.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to those who love historical novels and to those who think history is dusty and dull - read this book and you will discover that in the hands of a master storyteller any memories of tedious history lessons will be swept away and replaced with a gripping desire to read more.
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on 29 September 2006
The opening words of this wonderful novel transports the reader back 400 years to an England torn by suspicion and darkened by conspiracy. Ms Dickason's evidently extensive research has enabled her to create the sights, smells, alleyways, alliances, loves, hates and passions of the time. A highly evocative writer, she describes events in such vivid prose you can almost smell the gunpowder and the sea and the sweat of a couple making love; you hear a man's neck break and an enraged bear growl; and all the time, the author is guiding you expertly through the labyrinth of her exquisitely realised plot.

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
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Christie Dickason was born in the American Midwest, but as a child lived in Mexico, Thailand and Switzerland. She was educated at Harvard university and has been a theatre director and choreographer with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She now lives in London with her family

This work of fiction is based around the true story of the infamous Catholic plot to blow up King James and his parliament. Seen through the eyes of a courtesan and the Firemaster of the title. The narrative follows a intricate plot that will keep the reader fascinated throughout the book.

The year is 1605 and papist plots abound in the narrow streets of London. Every inn and every alleyway is a potential meeting place for the catholic plotters. Francis Quoynt, Firemaster recently returned from the wars in the low countries is dreaming of leaving the fighting behind and concentrating on making fireworks.

But his dream is short lived when he is recruited by the First Minister Sir Robert Cecil to spy on Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators. What Quoynt does not realise is that he himself is also being spied upon by Sir Francis Bacon . . . Also November 5th is approaching, but no one is aware of the significance of that date.
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on 12 February 2012
This is a tour de force, a real crackling page turner with real inarguable characters, and realistically but so animatedly bring the events of the 1605 Gunpowder plot to life.
Kate Peach, a fascinating and easy to love character is the main player of the novel, together with her one time paramour Francis Quoynt, a gunpowder maker and agent for the Machiavellian Secretary of State to King James I, Robert Cecil. Quoynt must infiltrate and ultimately foil the plot of Guido Fawkes, Robert Catesby, Tom Wintour and other Catholic conspirators in their plot to blow up parliament and assassinate and replace the king. Quoynts activities are complicated by the fact that he is himself being trailed by Cecil's cousin and enemy, Francis Bacon. Furthermore, Kate who Francis still has feelings for, is a secret Catholic, who on pain of death, hides Catholic priests and sympathizes with the aims of the plotters. If Quoynt exposes the plot, will he bring about the death of Kate too?
Kate is the most engaging character, highly spirited and beautiful, not promiscuous but as areal woman of flesh and blood, no virgin either- the novel does not pertain the horrible stereotype of women as either wicked whores or chaste figures of virtue, that has been used in historical fiction in the past. The part of the book where she befriends the bear, Caledonian Meg, that is kept for the cruel sport of bear baiting, and how Meg ultimately saves her life is a heartwarming thread here.
A racy and eventful novel, a real page turner, that I finished ion two days. If you are interested in English history and enjoy historical fiction you will not be disappointed.
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on 24 March 2012
An exciting and tense novel that centres on the build up to the Gunpowder Plot in the early seventeenth century. The highly skilled Firemaster Francis Quoynt returns to England from the wars in Flanders with hopes of making fireworks rather then participating in more wars. Upon his return he is enlisted to spy for Robert Ceil who fears there is a plot hatching against the king from a Catholic group. As a result of working to stop the plotters, Francis is reunited with his old lover and secret Catholic Kate Peach who makes gloves for a living. Over the course of the book the fates of both Kate and Francis entwine with those of the conspirators in dramatic and different ways.

The fast pace and multi-layered plotting surrounding the novel really hooked me - I never knew what was going to happen next right up until it ended. It can be slightly maze like when trying to keep the different plots straight but I never felt lost which was good. I really loved the complex character of Robert Ceil, the statesman with a puppetmaster's touch for pulling strings behind the scenes. He could have easily been either the villain or hero in the novel but the reader and Francis is never sure of Ceil, even when the book ends. Boomer, Francis' father and Richard Seaborn were also interesting and sympathetic characters that I really warmed to, whilst the character of Guido in the novel was compelling to read. I was shocked by Kate's final choice, although it did feel slightly abruptly, it suited her transformation over the book well.

I don't have much knowledge of the period or the Gunpowder Plot other then that Guy Flawkes got caught but the story feels very well researched, especially the process of making of the gunpowder! The era really came to life for me, which is one main thing I look for in a historical novel. My only quibble with the historical authenticity would be that some characters, like Francis, have a mindset that felt more modern then early seventeenth century at times. There is a strong dual theme of the unpredictability and appeal of both fire and gunpowder throughout the novel, which I enjoyed. The story starts as a love story and turns into an more of an action story about half way through, which I felt fitted the novel well, but may not be everyone's cup of tea.

I would recommend The Firemaster's Mistress, as it was highly enjoyable to read, fast paced and captured the claustrophobic atmosphere and religious tensions of seventeenth century England really well.
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on 18 January 2007
At first look, after reading the synopsis of this book i didnt think it would be great to be honest. I got it bought as a christmas present and so i decided i better read it just in case. It turned out to be one of the best books i have read. I loved the characters of both Francis and Kate, which are easy to love.

The book is based on the gunpowder plot and a man called Francis who is hired to prevent the whole thing from happening. It has some great, unexpected twists within it which kept me clutched to it till the end. it was that good i happily sat in on a saturday night to finish the last few gripping chapters.

If you are woundering whether to read it or not i deffinatly would if you love historical fictions, the gunpoweder plot, romance, mysteries and problem solving. if you do this book is for you.
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Christie Dickason was born in the American Midwest, but as a child lived in Mexico, Thailand and Switzerland. She was educated at Harvard university and has been a theatre director and choreographer with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She now lives in London with her family

This work of fiction is based around the true story of the infamous Catholic plot to blow up King James and his parliament. Seen through the eyes of a courtesan and the Firemaster of the title. The narrative follows a intricate plot that will keep the reader fascinated throughout the book.

The year is 1605 and papist plots abound in the narrow streets of London. Every inn and every alleyway is a potential meeting place for the catholic plotters. Francis Quoynt, Firemaster recently returned from the wars in the low countries is dreaming of leaving the fighting behind and concentrating on making fireworks.

But his dream is short lived when he is recruited by the First Minister Sir Robert Cecil to spy on Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators. What Quoynt does not realise is that he himself is also being spied upon by Sir Francis Bacon . . . Also November 5th is approaching, but no one is aware of the significance of that date.
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on 3 February 2010
I really enjoyed this book. It was quite a quick read for me. The author got straight into the action and quickly introduced all characters.

The story covers the time before and just after the alleged BLOW UP of Parliament in 1605 and all involved with this plot. She introduces Guido Fawkes neither as a villain nor as a hero and kind of leaves the reader to make up their own minds.

We are introduced to the twisted body of Robert Cecil who hires firemaster Frances Quoynt to find him traitors who plot to kill the King James I - but the task gets more twisted and difficult that Frances anticipates.

The characters of Kate Peach and both father and son Frances Quoynts were very well described and very likeable each in different way and for different reasons.

The language was crude at times and maybe not what you'd read in books by Phillipa Gregory or Alison Weir, but after few chapters I got used to that and realised that when you write about the lives in the darkest parts of 17'th century London with all it's ale houses and brothels you need to make the language seem authentic.

Great book - for me it's 10/10 and I will read more by this author.
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