Karen Harper's Queen Elizabeth series are a rich feast for the senses. Harper has an excellent grasp of the times and her writing is rich in period detail--everything from Elizabethean fashion to the cuisine of the day comes alive under the influence of her pen. Historical fiction doesn't get much more pleasurable than this.
The seventh book in the series finds Elizabeth attempting to hunt down a murdered whose weapon of choice is the mirror. It's an intriguing and innovative premise but that is characteristic of this series. Harper deftly weaves together history and fiction to create an antagonist who has a very interesting motive for murder. The twists and turns that the queen must take to finally determine the identity of the murderer are interesting and the final confrontation is spectacular. The very imagery of it leaps off the page.
Though Elizabeth I is a spectacular and fascinating subject in her own right, in Harper's hands she truly comes alive. Harper's queen is passionate and mercurial but also mindful of those who serve her well. It is this characterization of one of the most dynamic figures in history that is the real strength of Harper's writing. My only complaint about this book--and the only thing that kept me from giving it five stars--is that Elizabeth is a bit too prone to portentious speeches, which must end every chapter or chapter segment. This rang too falsely at times for me and took me out of the story a bit.
Along with the main mystery is an engrossing subplot about Gil Sharpe, a recurring character in the novels. His travels in Italy and his discoveries of Italian painting techniques make for a fascinating read. He is also a wonderful character, displaying yet again the aptitude that Harper has for creating believeable and interesting characters. Harper could probably get by solely by focusing on Elizabeth but she does her readers a great service by surrounding the queen with a cast of vibrant characters.