The Firemaster's Mistress: A Novel
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The Firemaster's Mistress: A Novel

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by Christie Dickason

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England in the early reign of James I: an unsteady nation adapts to its new king; Shakespeare labors over the tragedies of Othello and Macbeth; bearbaiting is a popular diversion . . . and Guy Fawkes, with a small group of desperate men, hatches a terrifying plot to assassinate the king and all of Parliament by explosion.

Francis Quoynt is a

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England in the early reign of James I: an unsteady nation adapts to its new king; Shakespeare labors over the tragedies of Othello and Macbeth; bearbaiting is a popular diversion . . . and Guy Fawkes, with a small group of desperate men, hatches a terrifying plot to assassinate the king and all of Parliament by explosion.

Francis Quoynt is a firemaster who would rather make fireworks than war. Kate Peach is a poor glovemaker and a mistress to the powerful Hugh Taylor, who is forced to hide her Catholicism as she spends her days looking out on noisy, teeming London streets crowded with prostitutes and drunks.

Once Francis and Kate were lovers before the firemaster abandoned her and the plague destroyed her family. Now they will meet again—as enemies—caught up in the maelstrom of treachery and violence surrounding Fawkes's malevolent plot. In the midst of chaos and madness, the flame of their romance will be dangerously rekindled, as their lives and the London they know are changed forever.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Set during the turbulent British 1600s, author Dickason vividly captures James I's reign and Guy Fawkes's plot to blow up London's Parliament in a novel of romance and intrigue. After the discovery of a young fisherman's body, whose death somehow ties in to a plot against the king, young explosives expert Francis Quoynt accepts a dangerous mission from the Earl of Salisbury: he must turn traitor to England in order to infiltrate the band of men plotting the king's assassination. Also in London is Francis's former lover Kate Peach, whose family was killed by the plague and whose Catholicism endangers her life. Taking up her father's glove-making trade, albeit illegally, Kate hopes to save up enough money to flee London and her cruel "protector and some-time lover," Hugh Traylor. When she and Francis reunite, passion sparks but mistrust runs high. Though the leads are strong, especially the believably conflicted Kate, Dickason keeps adding new players throughout, some real and some fictional (a helpful character list makes the distinction); keeping track of their relationships is a challenge, complicated by a narrative that bounces among the principals. That said, Dickason's tale is fascinating, offering an unexpected level of complexity and a shocker of an ending. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 10.78(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Firemaster's Mistress

A Novel

By Christie Dickason
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008

Christie Dickason
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061568268

Chapter One

Kate Peach worked hard to keep her life under control. This morning, she was feeling a cautious sense of success. Her small lodgings were immaculately clean. She had orders for seven pairs of gloves, at seven shillings each, from four local Southwark whores and three innkeepers' wives, not counting the unfinished hawking glove on her lap.

Although the glove would be worn by a mere smith to fly a common kestrel, its silver embroidery and twisted fringe were rich enough for a gentleman's falcon or nobleman's eagle. Kate did not see why only fine ladies and gentlemen should enjoy the small luxuries that let you pretend for a moment or two that life was better than you knew it to be.

Furthermore, unlike fine ladies, the whores didn't ask whether she was a member of the Glovers' Guild. Unlike many fine ladies, they also paid on delivery, just as they themselves expected to be paid.

As she did every morning, Kate sat on a stool at the window with her father's thick leather apron over her long thighs, her broad elegant shoulders curved tenderly above her work. With her awl, she punched holes in the edge of the gauntlet and lined these up with the holes in the edge of the wrist.

The two pieces of thick leather slipped. Her needle stuck. When she pushed it with the hardleather pad she wore in her palm, the needle snapped.

Her peace of mind felt suddenly fragile.

It's only a broken needle, she told herself.

She turned to the window to look at the Thames. She could spend hours staring blankly at the changing colours and patterns of the water. Today the surface was choppy. The sun struck bright sparks on the crests of the slate-green ripples. Slate-green like his eyes. The thought slipped through her guard like a dagger thrust.


Gratefully, she set aside the glove and pushed open her window.

'Broken meats again this morning, duck?' called Peg the Pie from the street below. 'Still warm from the oven . . . Hot pies!' she bellowed to a passer-by.

Kate tied her purse to her girdle and ran down the narrow stairs of the tenements above The Little Rose. The stink of piss in the staircase still made it hard for her to think the best of her present life, even after more than a year, but she no longer noticed the smell of stale beer rising from the inn at street level.

In the street, she handed over her ha'penny. As always, Peg gave her all the broken pies. Then, instead of climbing back up to her lodgings, Kate went to stand beside the Thames while her tongue savoured the warm succulence of minced mutton spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The breeze played with a loose curl of her dark hair.

Compared to that of many others on Bankside, her life was quite tolerable. But only as a passing-through life. Though she had enough to eat and was blessed with lodgings on the top floor, with a window that opened onto the river instead of a narrow, foetid alley, she meant to leave Southwark as soon as possible. The price she paid for her tolerable life was becoming intolerable.

'Wainfleet oysters,' cried a woman with a basket over her arm. 'Oysters!'

'Buy fine apples,' called another. 'Morning, Kate.'

Kate waved at the apple-seller, then licked her fingers, smelling the stink of tanned leather on her skin under the mutton.

With half a dozen slightly bruised apples and the rest of the pie fragments in her apron, Kate set off as she did every day, down Bankside, past the water mill on the river at Bank End and into Clink Street.

Men looked at her as she walked past, tall and moving with deer-like precision, her skirt snapping like a flag. She was not beautiful in the pale, plucked fashion of the day, but handsome, like a lovely youth, with a long straight nose and large watchful black eyes. The skin of her hands and face was faintly touched with copper, as she no longer bothered to wear a hat in the sun.

She refused to trouble herself any longer about a great many things. Why waste time fending off small disasters like freckles when the worst you can imagine has already happened?

At the Clink prison, she stooped to pass the apples and broken pies down through the bars to the reaching hands of the debtors locked in the underground cells. They were given no food but what they could pay for, or was brought by their families or by well-wishers like Kate. Some of them starved to death.

'Bless you, mistress. God bless you and keep you out of our company.'

'Amen,' she murmured. She stood up and shook the last crumbs from her apron through the bars. She did not speak to the prisoners.

Others brought food to the prisoners as an act of charity. For Kate, the gift was a preventative charm. As long as she could still give, she felt she had not yet fallen into total ruin.

She was not hard-hearted. On the contrary, her heart felt fragile, always close to tearing. It would hold, so long as she did not wear it out further with everyday use.

Being so close to the Bridge, Kate decided to cross to the City to buy another needle. Her heartbeat quickened. She disliked London Bridge. Going onto it was like entering a deep chasm. She always felt that she must cross quickly before something could happen.

She pushed through the crowds that jammed the narrow roadway. The noise was deafening. On either side, buildings three- or four-storeys high trapped and magnified the racket. In places, these buildings spanned the road entirely, with bridges called hautpas creating murky, echoing tunnels beneath. Vendors shouted from the open fronts of their shops. 'What d'you lack? What d'you lack?' Dogs barked. Buyers haggled. Cattle lowed plaintively as they were driven across to the knives of Smithfield. Their herders bellowed. The hoofs of horses drummed.


Excerpted from The Firemaster's Mistress by Christie Dickason Copyright © 2008 by Christie Dickason. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Christie Dickason, Harvard-educated, is a former theater director and choreographer with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She is the author of The Firemaster's Mistress and lives in London with her family.

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