The Alchemist’s Daughter (A Bianca Goddard mystery) by Mary Lawrence

Ask a school aged student what their favorite subject is, and more likely than not their answer will be anything other than “History”. There are those young students who do enjoy history, but for the majority it isn’t until we become adults that the subject holds any interest. This certainly holds true for myself, dear reader. Only as an adult have I found the subject interesting.

The Alchemist’s Daughter is a novel set in a time which I have found interest in – 16th Century London. The time of the reign of Henry VIII, a most turbulent time. In it, we meet Bianca Goddard, an intelligent young woman who uses her knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs to create remedies for the very poor in the Southwark slums where she lives. When her friend Jolyn comes complaining of stomach pains, the usual remedy doesn’t ease the pain but instead kills Jolyn on the spot. Trying to recover from the shock, Bianca begins to suspect that Jolyn was poisoned long before, something the local constable doesn’t seem ready to believe.

In order to keep herself out of the gallows, Bianca must try and find the real murderer. Using her knowledge as well as relying on help from those around her she needs to stay one step ahead and find out who killed her friend before time runs out.

The reviews on Amazon are mixed for this book, and I have to admit my feelings towards it are the same. On the whole, the book itself is fairly enjoyable. A dramatic tale with a variety of characters makes for a good read. The more casual history fan will like this book but the more ardent student will likely find problems. Characters speak more “modern”ly with only the occasional word or phrase from the time thrown in. Outfits, ideas, and even food and drink from a variety of eras form a sort of mish-mash that comprise parts of the novel.

Bianca, as well as the other main characters of the novel, were somewhat interesting. Bianca herself reads as the beautiful yet plucky heroine, constantly overlooked but determined to make her mark. Others seemed more like caricatures instead of full fleshed out persons, right down to the exasperated boyfriend. For me, the only character that I found truly worth wondering about was the mysterious cloaked rat catcher who showed up on occasion. Who was he and what was he doing? I found myself questioning his motives more than the main characters.

I wouldn’t call The Alchemist’s Daughter a light, fluffy read since the subject matter is far from it. It is however for the more casual reader and those who are real sticklers for historical accuracy should stay away. A decent read but I doubt I’ll be searching out any other books in this series.

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