Varina Westcott is trying desperately to get through each day. As the owner of the Westcott Chandlery in London, she is not only running the shop with the help of her sister and brother-in-law but mourning the loss of her husband and youngest son, Edmund. While she loves her oldest son, Arthur, her grief is deep and she spends her free time carving angel candles with the face of her Edmund on them.
When a member of the court sees one of her exquisite candles she is called to the palace and asked by the Queen, Elizabeth of York, to secretly carve wax effigies of her two deceased children as well as her two brothers, the Princes of the Tower, who mysteriously disappeared years before. Their grief at their lost loved ones bond these two women despite their difference in status and Varina works diligently on her veiled mission, being secreted in and out of the castle by Nicholas Sutton, a man trying desperately to make a name for himself in his royal service after his family fought against the Tudor king taking the throne.
As Varina works she begins to feel emotions outside her grief, feelings of adventure and accomplishment as well as a growing affection for Nicholas. In the back of her mind is also a sense of danger as she is first approached by a strange man in a cemetery and then chased into a crypt by a man who claims to know her secret work for the Queen. When the newlywed heir to the throne, Prince Arthur, dies of a sudden illness, the distraught Queen sends Nicholas and Varina, her official Mistress of Mourning, to Wales to discover if Arthur was murdered and if his death has any connection to her brothers’ disappearance.
As Nicholas and Varina search for the truth they are continually followed and attacked by a mysterious man that seems to vanish into the mist. As they move closer and closer to the truth behind these royal deaths, the death count continues to rise and their very lives, and the lives of their loved ones, are put in danger. What they discover is a plot to not only bring down the entire Tudor dynasty but to destroy anyone that gets in the way.
The twisting mysteries throughout Mistress of Mourning were a pleasant surprise as I was expecting a more traditional historical fiction story. Karen Harper presents tiny pieces of the puzzle throughout the narrative with the final pieces not falling into place until the very end. She gives us clear answers to the questions regarding the disappearance of the Princes of the Tower as well as the death of Prince Arthur and even gives reasons why she reached these conclusions in her author notes.
Mistress of Mourning alternates between Varina and Queen Elizabeth as narrator and while Varina is by far the larger focus, I found Elizabeth’s point of view to be just as essential to the story. As the daughter, sister, niece and wife to Kings of England, she presents a side to the history unlike any other. Her presentation as a gentle, kind woman who is at the same time manically grieving and determined to find out the truth behind the strange deaths of her loved ones is quite compelling and sorrowful. I have often thought she would make a complex, interesting subject for a novel and that is exactly what this book gives us.
This is not my first Karen Harper book and will definitely not be my last. I would recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, mysteries or characters that are multi-faceted and not always what they seem.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by NAL Trade. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.