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The Italian Potion

by Edward Bewley


Courtier and man-about-town Francis Wyld also regards himself as something of a philosopher in the truest sense of the word.  After an alchemical evening when he sees base metal transformed to gold, he is informed by his friend, Robert Delaney, that the Frenchman he watched performing the experiment has been murdered.  Delaney wants Francis to discover the perpetrator and find out what has happened to certain secret alchemical papers that Monsieur Vouet had brought for him.  This investigation will lead him to Whitehall and the King’s Court, straight into the clutches of Lady Castlemaine...

The most surprising (and refreshing) feature of this book is the fact that it is set in the 17th century.  Not many books are, which is a pity, and reading this novel reminded me what we historical novel readers have been missing.  Set at a time when the King’s lively court was doing its best to sweep away any lingering vestiges of Puritanism, it also depicts the beginnings of modern science.  Vouet’s alchemy harks back to the years when it was regarded as highly illegal magic, but Wyld also meets with Hooker and other Royal Society members, and the whole tale is redolent with this exciting transitional phase between medieval superstition and modern science.  The whodunit aspect is entertaining too, as is the depiction of London just before the fire and its world of coffee houses, wits, scientists and swaggering courtiers.  Wyld makes a good narrator, too, and the language recalls the time enough without resorting either to modern idioms or antiquated "gadzookery."  There is a lot in here to enjoy, and none of it recalls the work of anybody else, which is refreshing.  I do hope that this is the first in a new series.

The Book

Robert Hale
30 April 2010
0709089422 / 9780709089421
Historical Mystery / Adventure / 1663 London, England
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The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2010
© 2010