THE RIVAL QUEENS
Reviewed by: Rachel
A Hyde, MyShelf.Com
A year ago Fidleis Morgan burst onto the historical crime scene with a remarkably fresh talent, setting her novel Unnatural Fire at the end of the 17th century (relatively untapped territory for this type of novel) and entertaining her readers with a bawdy, boisterous and humorous tale. Now her redoubtable protagonists, the Countess Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche and her maid Alpiew, are back - still trying to make ends meet by writing scandal for The London Trumpet, still living in squalor and trying to keep out of debtor's jail. Tailing an heiress who is visiting her murderous lover in the Tower seems straightforward enough, but when it leads to getting hired to promote some thespians, it all ends in murder via a club of aristocratic vandals in pink beribboned outfits, decapitated heads, and Bedlam.
I've read quite a few comedic historical whodunits recently - there seems to be a vogue for them - but they too often have a tendency to turn silly and go off on a tangent. This one doesn't and even when there isn't a lot happening that pertains to the case, it is all somehow never less than entertaining. This is due mainly to the depth of research and the indisputable fact that true historical verisimilitude (the past is, after all, another country) can often be not only fascinating, but very funny as well. There are even some jokes that get in a sly dig at more modern times which invariably make me wince when I encounter them in a historical novel. Even these, however, are deftly managed and seem to add to the glorious whole rather than to detract. Here is the dark miasma of the Tower, citizens terrorized by gangs of hellraisers, bawdyhouses, quack cures for the incurable and some historical figures such as Pepys (obsessed with sex and seafaring) and the opinionated dandy Colley Cibber. Short of buying a time machine, I can't think of a better way to explore the late 17th century.
Dare I use the words "Hugely Enjoyable" again as I did to the first book, the highest praise I give any novel? Almost, as this really is that sort of book. An author to watch.
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