Mistress of Mourning was the second novel I have read by Karen Harper. It was set in the earlier days of the Tudor dynasty, in the reign of Henry VII, and focused largely on the death of Arthur, Prince of Wales. The premise was interesting – a widowed chandler, Varina Westcott, is hired by the queen, Elizabeth of York, to carve effigies of her dead children and her missing brothers, the Princes in the Tower. Varina becomes the queen’s confidant and she is hired, along with the king’s man Nick Sutton, to go to Wales to investigate the death of Arthur, whom the queen believes did not die of illness but of foul play. Along the way, of course, are the requisite bad guys, traitors, and love stories.
The idea that Arthur was poisoned is intriguing. I am not sure I believe it myself, but Harper makes a compelling argument in favor of it. Given the prince’s poor health throughout his life, a Yorkist assassin slipping in a deadly herb that would cause symptoms resembling any number of illnesses isn’t too much of a stretch to be unrealistic. I suppose it could happen.
The issue with the Princes in the Tower felt a little rushed in the end. Henry’s confession felt a tad contrived, the explanation for their deaths too convenient. But I liked the homage to Henry II and Thomas Becket’s feud, and how Henry VII’s “confession” was similar to Henry II’s “order” to kill Becket.
In general, I liked the characters, though I felt they all needed more development. I thought that was a little odd since the other book I’d read by Harper had extremely well developed characters. Varina and Nick were, of course, the most thoroughly fleshed-out, though they still lacked some depth and had questions left unanswered. It wasn’t enough to detect from the overall plot, just something that was a bit strange considering the experience I had with her other book, Mistress Shakespeare.
Overall, a quick, fun read. Recommended for fans of Tudor history.