No, it's not some lame historical romance ROFL although the title rather gives that impression. The Firemaster's Mistress by Christie Dickason is set in one of our favorite Jacobean eras, that of the Gunpowder Plot. If one has a license from the Crown to make gunpowder (they didn't just let any fool play around with such dangerous stuff), then one is considered to be a "firemaster" & the firemaster's mistress is gunpowder. So now we've that bit straightened out.
This particular firemaster, Francis Quoynt, incidentally does happen to have a mistress, though ROFL, one Kate Peach. Kate's lost her entire family to plague & is under the thumb of one Hugh Traylor, who avails himself of her "services" when he feels like it & also has her run mysterious errands for her in exchange for her "keep". Kate comes from a long line of glovers & back in the day it was illegal to create them without being in a guild, which did not accept women as members. However, she's doing it on the sly for brothel girls & merchant wives in an effort to earn enough coin to escape her bondage to the nasty Hugh. She's also a closet Catholic, which is never good after that whole Reformation thing in England.
You may be thinking, well, fine fellow old Francis there is to let poor Kate get into such a pickle. Tsk tsk, FA already told you, the firemaster's mistress is gunpowder & during Kate's calamities he was off on the Continent doing just that. Seems the end of the Elizabethan wars has created a dearth of respectable English employment for gunpowder manufacturers, alas.
At any rate, the plot thickens when Kate is forced to seek out Francis upon his return & give him a message from Hugh (who knows all about her brief liaison with the aforementioned firemaster & is quite sadistic about the whole thing) that will rope them all into the Gunpowder Plot. Francis comes from a a long line of firemasters; Pop goes by the nick of "Boomer" ROFL Turns out the little dwarf Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, has sniffed out the birthing pangs of the Gunpowder Plot & wants Francis to make the conspirators the gunpowder so that Salisbury can catch them & come off as a big hero to James I. Lots of intrigue & natch, explosions, abound.
One of the conspirators Francis was friendly with in the war days & the poor lad sort of feels badly about knowing all these guys are going to come to a bad end because he's the Cecil mole, though personally he's not too fussed with the mysterious "Guido" (who turns out to be Guy Fawkes). Gross historical fact: did you know the saltpeter used in gunpowder was commonly culled by raking manure out of stables & boiling it down to make urine crystals? Nope, me neither & yuck.
We all know how the Gunpowder Plot turned out, but the author manages to give a fabulous little twist to it in the end where you go well I saw not that coming ROFL The firemaster doesn't even get the girl in the end, but you'll be amazed who Kate hooks up with & eventually marries from the vast cast of characters.
I likes how at the start Dickason clearly delineated the "real" historical characters from her fictional ones with a list & that it was at the beginning, as I recently read a rather stupid book set in Ireland that aggravated me to find a glossary & a pronunciation guide at the END when I'd already mangled the Gaelic & scratched my head through the whole thing going what was that nonsense about? They say Celtic languages are so similar....ha! I'd rather plow through Cymraeg than Gaelic any day of the week with all those odd consonant blends like "bh" that gets pronounced as "v". Stuff ought to be in English or French as far as I'm concerned ROFL
The novel itself was decently written & the author explains things very clearly, so even someone sans a clue would be able to get this down. Don't let Philippa Gregory's praiseful jacket blurb deter you thinking anything she likes must be trash ROFL I had a peek at Amazon & Dickason has 4 other novels. The Memory Palace is set at the onset of the English Civil War with the usual conflict of Royalist & Parliamentarian families tearing apart a pair of lovers, The Lady Tree is apparently a prequel to that book though Amazon's got naught to say about it at all, there's one called Quicksilver with a lute & a Rubenesque backside on the cover but no description, & The Principessa looks to be a sequel to The Firemaster's Mistress, as it also features the character of Francis Quoynt tangling with the wily lil dwarf & an Italian princess who apparently gives Lucrezia Borgia a run for the money.
And can any of your British folk tell me WHY you all have "remember remember the fifth of November" & burn the guy? The plot failed, Guy Fawkes had a gruesome demise....I'm not getting why this is an excuse to blow off fireworks & immolate effigies 400 yrs later. Really. I'm not.