Welcome to the Mistress of Lies Blog Tour! I’m happy to be a part of this tour, as fortunetelling and historical fiction are two of my favorite things. While I don’t agree with all of the author’s ideas about fortunetelling (I’m a professional tarot reader, after all), I think she did a phenomenal job researching 17th Century fortunetelling and bringing the time period to life.
Mistress of Fortune #2
Author: Holly West
Release Date: Sept, 29 2014
Isabel, Lady Wilde, mistress of King Charles II, has made a good living disguised as fortune teller Mistress Ruby, counseling London’s elite. But after the murder of one of her customers, business has taken a downturn, and Isabel is on the verge of accepting the king’s offer to move into the palace.
Isabel’s plans are interrupted when a beggar girl named Susanna shows up at her home, claiming to be her niece. Isabel always believed that her older brother, Adam, died alone during the plague. When Susanna reveals that Adam was actually murdered, Isabel is compelled to take up an impossible task: discover the truth about her brother’s death, twelve years after it happened.
Isabel’s investigation leads her through the gamut of London society, from bear-baiting matches and brothels to the realm of wealthy bankers. But as she uncovers her brother’s dark secrets, Isabel begins to wonder whether the past is better left buried, especially when uncovering the truth could lead to her own funeral.
Fortunetelling in the 17th Century
I’ve always been pretty up front about the fact that I don’t personally believe that anyone has the ability to predict the future. But I chose this profession for my heroine, Isabel Wilde, for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve always been fascinated by the cultural traditions of soothsayers and healers, particularly “wise women.” Medical science was in its infancy in the 17th century, and only the rich could afford physicians. Wise women took up the slack, especially in rural areas.
Second, I needed Isabel to be able to earn a living for herself outside of the occupations typically available to women in the 17th century. The roles of wife, mother, servant, or prostitute were not for her. I liked the idea of creating a strong female character that understood the constraints of her gender, working them to her advantage rather than letting them define her. She isn’t shy about the fact that she’s a charlatan—unless you happen to be one of her customers, of course—but at heart she wants to help people. Though Isabel isn’t exactly a wise woman, she does recommend various herbs and connections to her customers and offers sincere, practical advice when she can.
Her main role is that of a fortuneteller, however, and as such, part of my research included a visit to a fortuneteller. I’ll admit to being nervous, not because I feared she’d reveal something unexpected, but because I didn’t want her to know I was only there for research purposes. I made an effort to be myself as much as possible while paying attention to her words and methods. In the end, she wasn’t much help because her questions and answers were so vague—since I was writing a book I need to present more compelling encounters, so much of what appears in my novels is entirely made up.
The main method Isabel uses in her occupation is palm reading. Tarot cards existed at the time, but their original purpose was for playing games and while there’s evidence they were used for divination in the mid 16th century, the cards themselves held no meaning. I used the Internet to research chiromancy and used its principles as a loose guide in determining what her counsel would be to her various customers.
London was full of astrologers in the 17th century. In a time when much of the population was illiterate, the signs above their shops featured crescent moons, stars, and suns to identify their businesses. In the series’ first book, Mistress of Fortune, Isabel pays a visit to her friend and mentor, Mary Bixby. Mary is an astrologer, and to write the scene I prepared an astrological chart for Isabel. I enjoyed getting into Mary’s head as she gives Isabel counsel and tried to be as authentic as possible in interpreting the chart.
While I can’t say my opinions about fortunetellers have changed as a result of my research, I do enjoy imagining Isabel’s adventures as a soothsayer. I guess you could say my love of writing the Mistress of Fortune series is “written in the stars.”
Holly West is a crime fiction writer based in Los Angeles. Her short stories appear in several anthologies and her debut historical mystery, MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, will be published by Carina Press in 2014.
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