I got a complimentary copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review – thank you very much! That fact, of course, didn’t influence my opinion in any way.
Lady Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II, has a secret: she makes her living disguised as Mistress Ruby, a fortune-teller who caters to London’s elite. It’s a dangerous life among the charlatans, rogues and swindlers who lurk in the city’s dark corners, but to Isabel, the risk is worth the reward.
One day a magistrate, Sir Edmund Godfrey, seeks Mistress Ruby’s counsel and reveals his unwitting involvement in a plot to kill the king. When Isabel’s diary containing dangerous details of his confession is stolen, she knows she must find it before anyone connects her to Mistress Ruby. Especially after Sir Edmund’s corpse is discovered a few days later…
Isabel is sure that whoever stole her diary is Sir Edmund’s killer–and could be part of a conspiracy that leads all the way to the throne. But as she delves deeper into the mystery, not even the king himself may be able to save her.
The era of Charles II Stuart, the 17th century in Britain was certainly a colourful period, worth a novel or a series or two so I was delighted somebody finally decided to set a book in those times. The main character, lady Isabel Wilde, was also supposed to be a heroine which I usually like: independent, smart, trying to earn her living in an era when the most important tasks of a woman was to marry, take care of her home and have children. Isabel was different – a successful fortune teller, dressing up as an old woman and calling herself Mistress Ruby. Still her income, although handsome, was a bit precarious and during the narration she behaves like somebody far richer than a working girl.
Her connection to sir Edmund Godfrey, the nod that started the whole action, seemed a bit shaky to me. Ok, he came to her, told her about a possible regicide and asked for a piece of advice, making her all flustered because she happened to love poor, handsome king Charles despite everything. Then he was found dead – Edmund, not Charles of course- and all of a sudden Isabel dived headfirst into a very amateurish but intensive investigation. He was just a stranger and she acted as if her life depended on the outcome. To tell you the truth I didn’t completely understand why she so obstinately sought to solve that crime, especially that the King evidently was protected far better than her humble self and plenty of people warned her that looking for answers might be dangerous. Let’s face it, they were perfectly right – the circumstances of sir Edmund’s death were fishy enough to make anybody wary. It’s not that she owed that gentleman anything or she was his family or friend. In other words and in my very humble opinion the character of Isabel could do with a bit more self-preservation instinct or a firmer motivation – preferably both.
I liked the former life of Isabel, presented as a back story of her investigation, unfurling slowly during the narration, the best. It was written in a better style that many of dialogues which were often a bit wooden, giving me a feeling of a rough movie script. I also liked the fact that some baddies were presented as rather handsome but completely unscrupulous rogues. Finally I appreciated the fact that Isabel was rescued by (spoiler: highlight to read or skip) another woman – her own servant to boot.
Still I suppose the whole premise lacked internal logic in too many places. I mentioned my objections concerning the investigation of Isabel and her flimsy ties with sir Edmund; now let me present a similar shortcoming.
Spoiler section ahead, highlight ’empty’ lines to read or skip.
We are told that Isabel was married off by the King himself as soon as he found out she was pregnant with his child. You have to admit it was nice of him. Charles chose Ian Wilde, his private guard and a very handsome man, as her husband. He didn’t know that deep down Ian was a cruel beast who clearly thought the world of himself and silently resented the fact that he was made to marry a ‘royal whore’. He beat his wife until she miscarried and then raped her before she had time to heal, proving that he was an unintelligent, sadistic brute. Afraid for her own life Isabel had to take a very risky decision which could have cost her everything – she purchased a poison and send her hubby straight where he belonged, to hell. And now let me ask a simple question: why had she to go through it on her own?
Correct me if I am mistaken but Charles II was clearly taking care of Isabel and his unborn progeny: not only he didn’t left her in the lurch with a fatherless infant but married her off, knighted her husband, gave them a house in London, a carriage and six horses as a wedding gift. I ask you again: why his former mistress couldn’t count on him and ask for further protection? It would have been only too natural if, after the death of their child, she had asked for a private audience, gone straight to the King and informed him that the miscarriage had been a result of, using contemporary terms, severe domestic abuse. I am sure nothing would have been done officially; unofficially, I bet, one night the gallant sir Wilde would have met very unpleasant company in one of darker London alleys and repented at leisure his brutality and thoughtlessness. And then the remaining scraps would be fed to rats – end of the story.
I liked the setting, I liked the historical accuracy, I even liked Isabel but I didn’t like the plot and I found the first-person narrative voice sometimes too clumsy. Lack of internal logic was the proverbial last nail in the coffin. Pity.