The Firemaster’s Mistress is set against the rich backdrop of 1605 England. In the spring of that year, an explosion took place in London that was a harbinger of a far larger plot: the Gunpowder Plot, in which a number of Catholics planned to blow up Parliament and King James I, and put a Catholic on the throne of England.
Francis Quoynt is a firemaster (someone who creates explosions), who is enlisted by William Cecil, Secretary of State, to spy for him. Quickly, Quoynt ingratiates himself among a number of men (including one who calls himself “Guido”) who are deeply involved in the plan to kill the king. Francis's father, Boomer Quoynt, is a former firemaster who lives in what is now Brighton, at the family home, Powder Mote.
Kate Peach is a glovemaker and secret Catholic, whose family perished during an outbreak of the plague in the summer of 1604. Her lover, Hugh Traylor, uses her for his own nefarious deeds, including hiding Catholic priests in Kate’s home at a time when to do so is synonymous with treason. One of her other tasks is to find Francis Quoynt, who used to be her lover before her left her. Very soon, the pair finds themselves on opposite sides of the law: one to assist in the Gunpower Plot, the other to stop it from going forward. Despite their past, however, Kate and Francis find themselves being drawn inexorably towards one another once again.
Historical fact and fiction are seamlessly integrated in this lively, fast-paced novel (I finished this 500-plus page book in three days). The first twenty or so pages are a little bit difficult to get through, but very soon, the reader finds themselves immersed in a world where treason and treachery are commonplace, and where each of the characters would do well to worry about who to trust. Even the reader has a hard time figuring out where to place their loyalty. As a result, I got emotionally involved with Kate and Francis’s story, such as it exists in the first half of this novel.
The story abruptly (maybe too abruptly?) turns from romance to thriller a third of the way through; and the ending of Kate’s story came from left field and felt a little bit tacked-on to me. However, this is a well-researched, well-thought-out novel, reminiscent of Philippa Gregory’s novels, especially Earthly Joys. Also, I thought that the author’s interpretation (and in some cases, fictionalization) of events was highly believable. Christie Dickason relied heavily on Antonia Fraser’s The Gunpowder Plot to write The Firemaster’s Mistress, reminding me that I should probably take my copy of that book down from my bookshelves and actually read it sometime.
Also reviewed by: Medieval Bookworm, Historical Tapestry, Peeking Between the Pages, A Reader's Journal, The Literate Housewife Review