A court scribe seeks to clear the name of a friend while working within the confines dictated by her station and sex in 1393 Paris.
Growing up friendly with the future King Charles, Christine de Pizan (in real life the author of The Book of the City of Ladies) never imagined being employed in service of the palace. But when her husband dies and leaves her with mouths to feed, she’s grateful for her work as a scribe. Because the king hasn’t seemed like himself lately, making capricious attacks on those around him, Christine’s mother, Francesca, urges her daughter to keep her head down. That’s not easy for Christine, who has a sharp tongue and a lot of opinions for a woman, qualities that draw her to the musical and similarly candid Alix de Clairy, the wife of one of the king’s closest confidants, Hughues de Précy. Despite Francesca’s admonitions, Christine doesn’t confine her daily conversations to the elite; she speaks to the prostitutes of Paris about the gossip of the day. This habit turns out to be helpful when unusual events happen on the palace grounds: a murder, a missing magical book, and the apparent possession and hunting of those close to the king. Even worse, Alix is accused of the murder of her husband and is locked in the Châtelet as she awaits the inevitable guilty verdict. Through Marion, a sex worker in her neighborhood, Christine learns that Alix has been framed, but both Christine and Marion know that no one will take her word about what truly happened. Bent on justice, Christine does what investigating she can along with her monastic friend, Michel. The two both work their palace connections and contacts to follow the complex web of secrets, though it seems unlikely that the truth will be uncovered before Alix is burned for her alleged crimes.
Peppered with quaintly dated quotations about the roles of women in the 14th century and related facts, Bayard’s mystery debut is slow to get underway but ramps up to a satisfying ending.