New life may be growing inside her, but Tudor herbalist Bianca Goddard continues to be surrounded by corpses wherever she turns.
Not even the news that her husband, silversmith’s apprentice John Grunt, is about to be called up to military service would move newly pregnant Bianca to make peace with her father, alchemist Albern Goddard. But Albern has his own urgent reason for seeking her out. He’s concocted a potent new element, “an amalgam of earth and fire” that’s entranced everyone who sees it—and motivated someone to make off with the discovery, which Albern doesn’t know how to duplicate. As he rages and frets and beseeches his daughter, a veteran sleuth (Death at St. Vedast, 2016, etc.), to help recover the burning stones, it becomes clear that this ill wind has blown somebody good. Leadith Browne, a white witch married to rival alchemist Dikson Browne, is already doing her best to rouse the interest of the locals gathered at the Dim Dragon in bidding against each other for some burning stones that seem remarkably like the ones someone stole from Albern. The proceedings predictably end badly for everyone involved. Soon after chandler Jacoby Nimble beats out apothecary Nye Standish in Leadith’s auction, the seller is found stabbed to death in an alley outside the Dim Dragon, a spectral green glow issuing from her mouth, which has been stuffed with meadowsweet, and one of the bidders soon follows her to the grave. Nor does that end the mischief unleashed on the town by Albern’s powerfully disturbing new discovery and the Rat Man, a 200-year-old alchemist who hovers on the fringes of the action.
Lawrence reminds you to read for the period detail rather than the mystery by including a glossary, an explanatory endnote, and a thousand tiny expository glosses that serve as portals from our world to the England of 1544.