Book Tour Review: Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent

Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Title: Lady of Ashes
Author: Christine Trent
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 404 (ARC edition)
Published: February 2013
Source: HFVBT for review
Rating: 3.25/5

In 1861 London, Violet Morgan is struggling to establish a good reputation for the undertaking business that her husband has largely abandoned. She provides comfort for the grieving, advises them on funeral fashion and etiquette, and arranges funerals.

Unbeknownst to his wife, Graham, who has nursed a hatred of America since his grandfather soldiered for Great Britain in the War of 1812, becomes involved in a scheme to sell arms to the South. Meanwhile, Violet receives the commission of a lifetime: undertaking the funeral for a friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But her position remains precarious, especially when Graham disappears and she begins investigating a series of deaths among the poor. And the closer she gets to the truth, the greater the danger for them both…

A richly detailed and atmospheric historical fiction tale set during the 1860's in England, Lady of Ashes is the first in a forthcoming series from veteran Christine Trent about a female undertaker named Violet Morgan. One thing that is both certain and obvious about the novel is that the author knows her time period intimately. The amount of research that went into crafting this novel is both apparent and one of the strongest aspects of the story as a whole. With a minimal focus on the advertised serial killer mystery, this is more of a well-crafted romance, though one with exceptionally strong period settings. Trent eases her readers into Violet's world, with appearances from Queen Victoria herself, as well as Prince Albert, and one of England's most famous (and real!) killers.

Violet Morgan is a well-realized and complicated main character. Outside of what society at the time would deem "seemly", her work with the dead fulfills her in ways that traditional female gender roles do not. More interested in seeing the dead sent gracefully into their final rest than housekeeping or playing hostess, Violet's devotion to her job strikes up issues with her more traditionally-minded husband early on. I really liked Violet - outside of the detail and attention paid to Victorian mourning rituals - she was the strongest factor in the story. Without seeming anachronistic, her life as a tradeswoman sets her apart from many of her contemporaries and makes her quite relateable. A strong, smart, and capable undertaker, Violet is the brains of her household, which becomes more and more obvious as her blundering and boorish husband gets into schemes way over his head.

Working with the recently deceased (even talking directly to them as she does her job - a la Ducky of NCIS!) Violet is the first to pick up on a pattern of death that sends her, and her young ward, on a hunt for the killer. While the murder mystery was introduced rather later in the novel than I had thought, it is well-crafted if a minimal focus for the novel. Much more time is spent on the failing marriage between Violet and Graham, and the integration of the American Civil War into the lives of the two English characters. At first I was leery about how well the War Between the States would work for a novel about an English undertaker, Trent carries it off rather well. The end of the novel is complete for the plot, while still obviously leaving an opening for the next forthcoming novel in the series.

Like many of the books I'm lucky enough to be sent by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, the author's note at the end of the novel is just as interesting and readable as the fiction set before it. Christine Trent's afterward is fascinating and full of more information for any reader who wants to know more about the events and people pictured in Lady of Ashes

A well-rounded and paced novel, Lady of Ashes is a strong start for Trent's new series. With a compelling and likeable main character and open-ended possibilities for the next novels, Trent leaves her readers wanting more from Violet's exciting escapades.  

Enter to win a copy of Lady of Ashes!
1. Follow via GFC - leave a comment with your email and GFC name
2. extra entries for:
following @HFVBT on Twitter; following me (@msjessieee) on Twitter
and for leaving a blog post comment. Make sure to leave Twitter names in your comment to get your entries!



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Review at Peppermint, Ph.D.
Thursday, February 28
Review at The Broke and the Bookish
Friday, March 1
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Monday, March 4
Review at The Novel Life
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, March 5
Review at Library of Clean Reads

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Review at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, March 7
Review & Giveaway at Book of Secrets
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Friday, March 8
Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Monday, March 11
Review at Impressions in Ink

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Review & Giveaway at Always with a Book

Wednesday, March 13
Review at From the TBR Pile

Thursday, March 14
Review at La Canape and Historical Tapestry

Friday, March 15
Guest Post at Historical Tapestry

Monday, March 18 Review & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader

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  1. I really would love to read this book. I love reading historical fiction set in the Victorian times and I am fascinated by the main character being a woman undertaker. Surely that was not common during those times. Also, I didn't know that this will be a new series. I want to read all of it!

    I follow with GFC as Carol N Wong.


  2. I follow HFVBT on Twitter as Carolee888.


  3. I also follow you, msjessieee on Twitter as Carolee888.


  4. I am a gfc follower - griperang, I also for HFVBT on twitter - @griperang

    This books look very good to me. Thank you for the chance to win it.

    griperang at embarqmail dot com

  5. I am dying to read this book! I follow on GFC (thelitbitch) and I follow HFVBT and you on Twitter (@thelitbitch). Email addy is: thelitbitch [at] me [dot] com

    Fingers crossed that I win! Thanks for hosting the awesome giveaway!

  6. Hope I didn't miss this -- SO devastated I missed being on this tour! I follow you in all the ways! :) GFC, Twitter, GR and of course, HFVBT! thanks!


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