With her dying breath, Mary of Guise entrusts a silver casket to Rinette Leslie of Granmuir, who possesses the ancient gift of floromancy. Inside the casket, and meant only for the young Mary, Queen of Scots, are papers the old queen has painstakingly collected—the darkest secrets of every Scottish lord and explosive private prophecies prepared by Nostradamus. Rinette risks her life to keep the casket safe, but she makes a fatal mistake: she shows it to her beloved young husband. On the very day the young queen comes home, Rinette’s husband is brutally assassinated.
Devastated, Rinette demands justice from the queen before she will surrender the casket. Amid glittering masques and opulent weddings, courtly intrigues and Highland rebellions, the queen’s agents and Rinette herself search for the shadowy assassin. They are surrounded by ruthless men from all over Europe who will do anything to force Rinette to give up the casket—threatening her life, stripping her of her beloved castle by the sea, forcing her to marry a man she hates, and driving her from the man she has reluctantly grown to love. In the end, the flowers are all she can trust—and only the flowers will lead her safely home to Granmuir.
Elizabeth Loupas' The Flower Reader takes place in Scotland during the mid-16th century, a time of great religious and political upheaval. When Rinette Leslie, a young ward of Marie Guise, is called to wait upon the dying regent, she has no idea that she will be asked to spirit away a silver casket containing secrets on Scotland's nobles and Nostradamus' marriage prophecies concerning Scotland's young queen, Mary. While the casket is in seemingly good hands with Rinette, who few would suspect of harbouring it, she miscalculates by telling her new husband, Alexander, about it. But when Alexander is murdered on the day Mary Queen of Scots returns home from France, Rinette's world comes crashing down. In an attempt to ensure her husband's killer is identified and captured, Rinette decides to bargain with the Queen -- she will hand the silver casket over to Mary only after Alexander's killer has been identified and captured. Mary accepts, setting into motion the events that serve as the basis for the rest of the novel.
Overall, The Flower Reader is an enjoyable novel. Rinette's quest to bring to justice the person behind her husband's assassination and, at the same time, prevent the silver casket from falling into the wrong hands, keep the narrative moving at a steady pace. I felt the characters in The Flower Reader to be well drawn. Aside from Rinette herself, I was especially interested in Loupas' portrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots. While Mary is characterized as a spoiled and indulged young monarch who is used to getting her way, she also comes across as naive and (somewhat) carefree. There is some hint at the turmoil to come in Mary's reign, but for the most part the period covered in this novel was one of relative calm and I appreciated reading about this period in Mary's life.
I think the greatest strength of this novel rests with how skillfully Loupas weaves the art of 'floromancy,' or flower-reading, into the story. I loved how Rinette associates each of the main characters with a particular flower, and learning the meaning behind each association. I'm not usually a fan of otherwise straight historical fiction incorporating bits of fantasy or mysticism into a storyline, mainly because I think if it's not done well it can leave a historical novel feeling less than authentic. Loupas, however, does a good job mixing mystical elements into this novel. I also appreciate the fact that while Rinette often finds herself in difficult situations, none of these seem improbable and, most importantly, neither does her ability to get out of them. While I would have liked the book to have delved deeper into some of the political happenings of the period by further incorporating key historical figures such as Queen Mary's half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, and Scottish Reformation leader John Knox into the story, the book does not suffer from either figure, especially Knox, being featured less prominently than some other characters.
The Flower Reader is sure to appeal to all fans of historical fiction, especially those interested in Scottish history and those who enjoy historical fiction mixed with a little fantasy/mysticism.
Disclosure: As a host on the novel's historical fiction virtual book tour, I received a copy of The Flower Reader from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Tour website: http://hfvirtualbooktours.blogspot.com/2012/03/elizabeth-loupas-on-tour-for-flower.html
Follow the tour on Twitter: #FlowerReaderVirtualTour
Elizabeth Loupas' website: http://elizabethloupas.com
Be sure to check back here on Friday April 6th when author Elizabeth Loupas stops by with a guest post on floromancy.