From Publishers Weekly
In Harper's enjoyable seventh historical (after 2003's The Queene's Christmas
), set in the spring of 1565, one of Elizabeth's protégés, the portrait artist Gil Sharpe, returns to London from studying in Italy two years early. Within days of Gil joining the rest of the court at Nonsuch Castle in Surrey, a fellow artist and his serving boy die in a mysterious fire. When another artist's work shows signs of scorching, Gil becomes a suspect in the crimes, and his evasiveness about his early return from Italy undermines Elizabeth's confidence in him. An ingenious plot is afoot that preys on the queen's fear of fire, a plot that may involve one of her dearest and most trusted friends and advisers. But which one? Even members of the queen's privy council aren't above suspicion. Is the plot promoted by her Roman Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots? In her attempts to unmask the conspirators, the young Elizabeth reveals a lighter, less formal side of her character; she's not afraid to hitch up her skirts and run when someone she cares about seems threatened. Such actual historical figures as the dour Sir William Cecil, the queen's secretary, and alchemist Dr. John Dee add color to this well-researched mystery
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Elizabeth I's "Privy Plot Council" serves her secretly, and the queen herself is often at the center of solving the mysteries the council uncovers. As this latest installment in the series begins, the queen is having her official portrait painted by several artists, including a young man just back from studying in Italy. When one of the artists is burned in his tent with his apprentice, and the portrait of another is slashed, Elizabeth calls in Dr. Dee, a polymath who shows her how fires can be started using mirrors to concentrate light. The Italian painter has a different use for mirrors, the camera obscura, which he is sworn to keep hidden. Elizabeth's father Henry VIII's wanton destruction of an entire town and his building of a fabulous castle in its place also figure mightily in the plot, which stretches credulity only in its climactic rooftop battle between the queen and the murderer. Harper, as usual, makes full use of historical minutiae and does so imaginatively. GraceAnne DeCandidoCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved