In 1861 London, Violet Morgan is struggling to establish a good reputation for the undertaking business that her husband has largely abandoned. She provides comfort for the grieving, advises them on funeral fashion and etiquette, and arranges funerals.
Unbeknownst to his wife, Graham, who has nursed a hatred of America since his grandfather soldiered for Great Britain in the War of 1812, becomes involved in a scheme to sell arms to the South. Meanwhile, Violet receives the commission of a lifetime: undertaking the funeral for a friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But her position remains precarious, especially when Graham disappears and she begins investigating a series of deaths among the poor. And the closer she gets to the truth, the greater the danger for them both…
Kensington Books | February 26, 2013 | 384 pages
Lady of Ashes is the first novel in a new mystery series featuring Violet Morgan, an undertaker in Victorian London. As an undertaker, Violet devotes her attention to caring for the dead and helping their loved ones grieve. On the home front, however, Violet is disturbed by her once doting husband Graham's increasingly secretive nature and unhealthy obsession with the American Civil War. When Graham becomes involved in a dangerous scheme to ship arms to the American South, he refuses to tell Violet anything about his actions and leaves her to run their undertaking business largely on her own. While Violet successfully manages the funerals of some of London's most prestigious people without her husband's help, thus bringing her to the attention of none other than Prince Albert, Graham's shady business dealings put him and an unsuspecting Violet in danger. When Graham is forced to flee England after his schemes become known, Violet contend with her good name and reputation being tarnished. As she seeks to rebuild her life, Violet starts to question a series of seemingly unrelated deaths and, in so doing, puts her own life in jeopardy.
Well-written, easy to read, and well-paced, Lady of Ashes is an entertaining novel that is sure to appeal to fans of historical mysteries, as well as to readers interested in the Victorian-era in general. One of my favourite aspects of the novel was the incorporation of Victorian funeral and mourning customs. I also enjoyed how the American Civil War was woven into the narrative, as it is not an event that normally plays a significant role in Victorian historical fiction. By employing an undertaker as the novel's heroine, Trent successfully differentiates her series from other Victorian historical mysteries I've read. Although I enjoyed this novel overall, for some reason I never really warmed up to any of the main characters, including Violet. I didn't dislike them, I just never connected with any of them -- although I did quite enjoy Trent's characterization of Queen Victoria. In addition, while I didn't have any trouble following the story, I felt Lady of Ashes to be a little too busy, with certain elements of the narrative seemingly unnecessary to the advancement of Violet's story. For example, the portions of the narrative that focus solely on American ambassador Charles Francis Adams (when he's not interacting with the main characters, that is) felt as if they belonged in a different book.
While I had a few minor issues with Lady of Ashes, overall I think it's worth reading and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
Note: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review as part of the Lady of Ashes Virtual Book Tour.
Interested in reading other reviews of this novel? Check out the tour schedule here.
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About the Author
Christine Trent writes historical fiction from her two-story home library. She lives with her wonderful bookshelf-building husband, four precocious cats, a large doll collection, entirely too many fountain pens, and over 4,000 fully cataloged books. She and her husband are active travelers and journey regularly to England to conduct book research at historic sites.
Christine Trent's novels include The Queen's Dollmaker, A Royal Likeness and By the King's Design.
For more information, please visit Christine Trent's website. You can also find her on Facebook.
I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one copy of Lady Of Ashes.
Contest details are as follows:
- To enter, simply comment on this post (be sure to include your email address);
- The contest is open internationally; and
- The contest will run until Midnight (EST) on 27 March 2013.