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Fidelis Morgan

REVIEW: Unnatural Fire by Fidelis Morgan

REVIEW: Unnatural Fire by Fidelis Morgan

Dear Ms. Morgan,

I had started reading the first book in the Countess Ashby de la Zouche mystery series a few weeks ago but had put it down for other books. With an indefinite power outage from Hurricane Irene mucking up my day, I decided to apply myself and finish it. Once I refreshed myself about the basics of the plot, the book flew by.

Unnatural Fire by Fidelis MorganLady Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche is on the far side of 50 in 1699 England. She’s also somewhat unstable financially and, along with her loyal maidservant Alpiew and somewhat loyal retainer Godfrey, she lives in her lifehold house in London. Reduced to selling society gossip to a weekly news sheet, she jumps at the chance offered by a suspicious wife, Elizabeth Wilson, to discover what the woman’s husband has been up to these past few months.

After following the man for less than 48 hours, Lady Asbhy and Alpiew already have a whole host of bizarre behavior to sort out. At the roughly 48 hour mark things turn bloody as they stumble across his corpse and first Lady Ashby then Mrs. Wilson are arrested for the crime. Though she’s quickly cleared and released, Lady Ashby and Alpiew are in a race against the justice system to save a woman they believe innocent of killing her husband as they attempt to find out who killed Wilson and why.

When I mentioned this book in my reading post, a few people commented about how bawdy it is and agreed with my description of “warts and all” 17th century life. No hygiene, caked on makeup, privies, horse dung, spoiled food, muck of every description – it’s all here and waiting to dazzle the reader. There’s also a wealth of period detail that doesn’t condescend too much to those who don’t know it nor, I would think, would overly bore those who are already in the know. Yet there are also anachronisms – deliberate, or not? – that I easily picked out which then makes me wonder about the rest of it. I’m no expert on the era and I don’t think any of these would affect the plot but historical sticklers might get their feathers ruffled.

As the story progresses clues begin to pile up but nothing begins to add up until very late. When all the clues do begin to fall into place things get wild with all sorts of bizarre occurrences and people who are and aren’t what they seem. The end is a crazy ride to the finish and only then can the reader sit back and think “that was weird and what about….?” Loose ends have to be tied up with information that I’m not sure how Lady Ashby could have gotten about what the dead man saw and did that lead to his death. But I will say that the plot depends on things such as alchemy and the succession which would have been important in the day.

When reading a mystery, liking the protagonists is as important to me as the plot and how the mystery is solved. In Lady Ashby and Alpiew, I think you’ve created two multifaceted people. They’ve got strengths and weaknesses but also intelligence and that drive to know the truth and see justice done. Once “Unnatural Fire” gets going, it’s compelling to keep reading and try to figure out the complicated plot. In order to discover “whodunit” and why, the reader has to remember to trace the usual path of money, power and revenge which, honestly, really hasn’t changed much whether in that fascinating age or this. B-


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What Jayne is reading/watching in mid August

What Jayne is reading/watching in mid August

My entries for this feature might end up being sporadic as I often don’t know what I’m going to read next until I eye my TBR print stacks or flip through my menu screens on my ereader. I’m just as spontaneous in my movie watching, too. And once I start a book, the odds are I will either finish it or drop it early so I usually don’t have too many DNF reviews. With that in mind here goes.

Powder and Patch, Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer – see the reviews already posted.

Unnatural Fire by Fidelis Morgan – this is a book I bought after seeing it raved about in the Bas Bleu catalogue. The first in a mystery series set in post Glorious Revolution England (1690s), it features down on her luck noblewoman Countess Ashby de la Zouche and a former servant of hers who solve crimes. It’s warts and all London with all its questionable hygiene and Fleet Street Prison. I started reading this a few weeks ago and put it down for some reason. Maybe the imaginary smells were getting to me but I do plan to pick it up again.

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Spellcast by Barbara Ashford – this is from a box of advanced reading copies that Jane sent me. Maggie lost her job in NYC and after her ceiling fell in on her, she decided to sublet her apartment for the summer then just drive and see where she ends up. The end up spot is a small town in Vermont and to top it off, suddenly she finds herself auditioning for a summer stock group. The tone is hilarious but something made me flip to the end to see if I’d get a HEA. The answer is unclear but due to the fact that I enjoyed Ashford’s writing style, I plan to give this one another go too.

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A Rather Remarkable Homecoming by C.A. Belmond – the fourth entry in this series about a “by marriage” cousins (no blood relation) who inherited some lucre, made some more then fell in love and got married, it picks up with Penny and Jeremy arriving home from their honeymoon to find a new mystery/sleuthing mission awaiting them. Though not as good as books 1 & 3, I still whipped through it and liked it but didn’t love it. Full review will be done.

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Yankee Doodle Dixie by Lisa Patton – the sequel to Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’Easter it follows Leelee Satterfield back to her hometown of Memphis, TN. At loose ends after selling the Inn she’d run in Vermont, Leelee finds that her new life in Memphis isn’t quite the return to Home Sweet Home that she thought it would be. It’s the same breezy style as before and I enjoyed seeing Leelee and her 3 best friends again but felt I was reading a rerun of book one but with more heat and humidity. Full review will be done.

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Space Slugs by Frances Pauli – After our recent fun discussion about penguin shapeshifters, I remembered that I had this ebook arc loaded on my ereader and decided, “WTF why not?” I’ve barely begun it and don’t think that the space slug will be the heroine (at least I think it’s a female) of the romance but it’s early days yet.

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After that I have a few books in mind I might try next including The King’s Courtesan by Judith James because I liked the first book in the series and Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne because a friend of mine tried and like it.


Hula Girls – it’s 1965 in northern Japan, and the mine that supports most of the town is shutting down. The company plans to develop a “Hawaiian” resort and a number of young women apply to be hula dancers there. Facing criticism from their friends and family, can they stick with it and thereby have jobs or will they cave to public pressure? This defines “heartwarming” though that also applies to “predictable.” I could tell when each phase of the movie arrived and pinpoint what would come next. It’s cute but never rises much above that level. Why watch it? It’s got some great hula dancing once the women really get going.

Yojimbo – This is the second Kurosawa film I’ve tried and as I told my kitty when we started watching it, Kurosawa had one more chance to win me over after the DNF of “The Hidden Fortress.” Win me he did with the story of an “at large” samurai in 1850s Japan who comes to a small town being torn apart by rival gangsters. Remade many times by Western directors, it’s got humor, drama, greed, violence and some amazing sword fighting plus one fancy Dan who prances around with a pistol. After this one, I’m ready to try more of his films.

Random Harvest – Greer Garson and Ronald Colman meet in post WWI England, fall in love, marry then are separated by – oh, I’m not sure – lotsa years of every melodrama known to man before finally! reaching their HEA. It’s finely acted and not overplayed melodrama in tasteful English fashion but way too much “piled on piled on” for me. Everything but the kitchen sink sagas have never been my thing but I can see how, if they are your thing, this would be very satisfying at the end.