I admit ~ it was the cover that drew me to Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent. Is it not a magnificent cover?!? Haunting, evocative – the black lace with the London fog; the headstone in the background and oh that red rose! Gorgeous!
Its 1861 in London. Violet Morgan married the local undertaker who has virtually abandoned the business to Violet in order to follow his own interests – killing off those damned Americans! Ever since Graham’s grandfather served in the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the Americas he has despised Americans and all they represent.
Violet keeps the business running (even though she is a woman) with her kind attention to details, compassion to the surviving family members and talent with the brushes (makeup for those passed on). As fortune would have it, Violet takes care of the funeral for a friend of Prince Albert’s, and in the process makes an acquaintance with the royal family. The results of Violet’s chance encounter with the Prince has long-lasting and far-reaching consequences.
Christine Trent did a marvelous job incorporating the unique funeral processes of the 1860s in both London and the Americas throughout the novel. Black lace and satin ribbons tied to the front door were a sign a family was mourning. Embalming was considered taboo in London but a necessity in America (the States were in the middle of Civil War and fallen men had to be transported by train for days making embalming a requirement). And the more upper class a family, the more “mourners” the family would buy to accompany the casket to its final resting place.
Violet was definitely ahead of her time. She was a working woman in a time when that was not only frowned upon, but looked at as wrong. Not only did she work but she was also clueless about maintaining a home and hiring servants which caused tremendous strife between Violet and Graham. Graham depending on Violet’s running of the funeral business yet his animosity towards Violet and her lack of domesticity created quite a dichotomy.
At 404 pages, Lady of Ashes was a solid read filled with interesting historical facts from mourning to sewing to even the habits of the royal family. Although there is a mystery to be solved, the novel revolves more around Violet, her marriage and growth as a person. I am thrilled there will be more Violet Morgan novels. A unique concept in having the undertaker, the female undertaker no less, taking the initiative and using common sense in order to solve murders. Fascinating novel with a little bit of everything – mystery, history, friendship, and even a bit of love.