Even the sister of a monarch is in trouble when she’s accused of witchcraft.
Thrice-married Ursula Blanchard is the illegitimate sister of and former lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I. The queen has not hesitated to use Ursula’s skills as a spy in the past. But now Ursula is retired quietly in the country and planning the wedding of her daughter when she receives a threatening letter from the exiled Countess of Northumberland, who hates her for helping to unravel the treasonous plot that caused her downfall. Ursula ignores the letter, until suddenly a series of misfortunes befall her household, and she’s falsely accused as a witch. Two of her neighbors have feuded for generations, and either one of them could plausibly be behind her troubles. An outbreak of smallpox, accusations against a servant who had once been convicted as a witch and books on witchcraft found in the home of some friends are evidence enough to persuade a zealous sheriff to investigate. Ursula and her longtime comrade in spying, Roger Brockley, put themselves in a dangerous position as they attempt to show that Ursula has been set up by a vengeful but unknown enemy.
The latest in Buckley’s always-entertaining series (Queen Without a Crown, 2012, etc.) combines the obligatory historical tidbits with an adventurous mystery.