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Unnatural Fire (Countess Ashby De La Zouche #1)

3.56  ·  Rating Details ·  282 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
Restoration London, 1699 -- Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche, Baroness Penge, Countess of Clapham, and former mistress to King Charles II, has astonishingly been jailed in debtors' prison. Joining forces with her loyal ex-maidservant, Alpiew, the formerly pampered and proper Countess sets out to make a living by working for the scandal sheets -- a line of work that inevitably ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published February 5th 2002 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2000)
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Burgundy Rose
Sep 10, 2010 Burgundy Rose rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First things first: you HAVE to read this. What a find, I can't believe it's not more of a bestseller, it was so good! Unnatural Fire is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Countess Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche and her former maid Alpiew in Restoration England. It's for you if you like historical crime and it's definitely for you if you like comic mysteries or just want a good laugh really. It's such bawdy, outrageous fun! From the very first lines till the very last, time just flew by. ...more
Feb 11, 2011 Susan rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I started reading this thinking it would be a typical historical mystery and quickly disabused myself of that notion.Think Monty Python meets Mrs. Marple. Once I wrapped my head around the fact that this book was a farce I enjoyed the ride. The opening scene, where the Countess and her eventual sidekick Alpiew are introduced to the reader, had me laughing out loud.
The author obviously did her research and was historically accurate about the times. The Countess and Alpiew were well developed and
Mar 13, 2010 Judith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A former mistress of King Charles 11, fallen on hard times, is forced to become a hack for a local Scandal Sheet,,in cahoots with her former Maid...they are given a "case" to follow a supposedly Errant Husband..and
The Games Begin..

And here is where i give my Warning:
This book is a wonderful Comedy of Manners..a Satire..Slapstick Glorious...surrounding a not-bad Mystery...Ms Morgan is an expert in Restoration Comedy..and it shows...I loved this book for the Comedy (I needed a good laugh)..but th
May 03, 2011 Gail rated it liked it
"Romp" is exactly the right word for this book, although I didn't find it particularly light reading, which would seem counter-intuitive to a romp, but there you have it. It's not light, for me, because it's crammed full of Restoration-speak and references that I wasn't quite equipped to muddle through. So, a bit slow-going at first, but nonetheless fascinating and fun. The mystery had me going until the end, and the characters were funny and engaging and delightfully odd. What struck me, though ...more
Dec 11, 2012 Almeta rated it really liked it
Really a fun series. What a great pair the brash Countess and her resourceful "maid" are!
Apr 27, 2014 Belinda rated it it was ok
This has, as Val McDermid said (it is quoted on the cover of my book) "a heady compound of wit, wisdom and wildness", but not in spades. I'd say it is a tangled mass of historical tidbits, intrigue, and silliness.

It reads as an overwritten but pleasantly amusing script for something not as good as Blackadder but trying to get there. When I say trying to get there sometimes it is bloody trying, other times it is amusing but forgettable.

Likes - the main characters aren't bad. I like that they're a
Sep 24, 2012 Martin rated it liked it
Countess Ashby de la Zouche and her maid Alpiew trample around England during the Restoration period to uncover a mystery that reaches from the darkest alley to the highest wardrobe. As they run around London in the year 1699 they meet people from all walks of life and engage in every possible adventure that period had to offer.

I think I must have read this book with a skewed eye. I was expecting a historical murder mystery but instead this novel is a historical farce that plays lightly with mys
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
Set in Restoration England, this is the first in a series of mystery novels involving Lady Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche, former mistress to King Charles II, and her long-lost personal maid, Alpiew. Abandoned years ago by her ner-do-well husband, Anastasia is in debtors prison, struggling to eke out a living selling gossip to newspapers. After a quick reunion with Alpiew, they begin working together to make ends meet, and are hired to follow a noblewoman's philandering husband. Unsurprisingly, th ...more
Mar 21, 2016 Angie rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Very disappointing on two levels. 1. This could have been fun, but it was totally lacking in subtlety, and ALL of the characters I met in the first chapter were people I did not have any desire to know better....2. In addition, although the author alerts people that this is not a history book, I DO expect some conscientious attempt to get things right when you are giving what you call "History", which is the title of a section in the back of the book. In that section she says, with no qualifiers ...more
Feb 25, 2014 Lacey rated it liked it
I really liked parts of this book and didn't like others. I like Alpiew, I can totally understand how having big breasts keep getting her in trouble. The countess on the other hand had moments of compassion and lucidity but other times was completely in her own reality. How she could ever let her husband come back and the ending....really! I'm having a hard time trying to comprehend their completely penniless state to her still being a somewhat respectable member of society. And the whole myster ...more
Bronagh Miskelly
Apr 04, 2016 Bronagh Miskelly rated it liked it
Shelves: crime-detective
I enjoyed much of the first of this historical mystery series featuring two eccentric down-at-heel ex-royal mistresses (apparently based on real people) and the maid of one of them in late 17th century London. There is lots of historical detail and a clear plot involving alchemy, royalty and much more.
What didn't work for me was the inconsistent comic style - this has clearly been influenced by the restoration comedy theatre style of the period about which the author is an expert but it sometim
Rachel Oakes
Apr 13, 2016 Rachel Oakes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I grinned and chuckled my way through this. It's a historical comedy whodunnit romp and, looking at other reviews, I guess it falls into the Marmite category. I loved it, and I really hadn't been sure I would. The characters are over-the-top, the setting (London in 1699) was intriguing, I didn't guess who committed the murder, but I'm sure I should have - the clues were there. And the language kept stopping me in my tracks - is that really where that word/phrase comes from? (It was). A great fun ...more
Nov 13, 2011 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book was strange. I really didn't think I was going to like it at just took me a little longer to get into it. The writing and language of the book were a bit strange for me at first but later became quite endearing. I especially liked how the author used modern phrases although the book was set in the 1600's (I think- I'm horrible with history, I know it said in the book but I forget :) Anyway the little jokes were kind of a little nod to the modern reader. A fun little mystery ...more
Nov 08, 2010 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Actually, it's 'currently re-reading.' I'm a sucker for historical novels, and anachronisms and other suspicious slips just get me started on trying to find out what historians think 'really' happened. History isn't all that far from fiction, after all...
Alchemy and Newton are some of the really fascinating details of this book. I have some trouble with the rotten teeth, body odor and general poor hygiene of everybody involved, but it's true to life in the period, so I live with it. The story is
Sarah Wagner
I had trouble getting into this historical mystery set in late seventeenth-century London. While the author does an excellent job of invoking the spirit of the times and providing a rich picture of life during the period, the writing itself simply failed to entice me into the story. I did manage to finish it, though, and was rewarded by a interesting conclusion to the tale as well as a very amusing scene featuring Sir Issac Newton.
Apr 20, 2013 Debra rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery-thriller
A fun romp in London in 1699. I read words I'd never seen before and learned, again, what a horrible place London was at that time... filthy stinky streets, unwashed people in dirty clothing, polluted Thames river, constant smog. No wonder people were getting sick all the time. But aside from that I really enjoyed this amusing little mystery that is investigated by a has-been countess and her maid. Great characters. Easy, quick read.
Aug 15, 2010 Jana rated it it was amazing
I didn't care for the first few pages and almost gave up on this--but I'm glad I stuck with it. What an interesting period 1699 in London--and she really puts you there with so many possible scenarios-and a reader would never guess the ending. Strange, but great characters. The scene with Sir Isaac Newton hiding under the bed had me laughing out loud.
MB (What she read)
A very complicated mystery, with unconventional characters, and an interesting historical setting. I did find it confusing; scattered and a little difficult reading, but it is a first book. (And maybe I was just too distracted at the time.)

BTW, does anyone know how to pronounce Alpieu? (That bugged me the entire time.) Please comment if so.
This was just ok-a murder mystery set in post-Restoration England. I felt it just tried to add too much in one story-the crazy friend with the foreign accent, a transvestite, alchemy, etc. And Alpiew? What kind of name is that? I felt like she had to babysit her employer, the Countess. I would have enjoyed this duo more if the Countess hadn't seemed so flighty.
Dec 12, 2010 Garen rated it it was ok
I am throwing in the towel. This book is a study of tortured language, (let's see, where can I insert a popular phrase from my 'restoration' thesaurus), mixed diction, inconsistent use of quotation marks, and a lot of wink-wink-nudge-nudge -eh-?which is neither bawdy nor witty . If there is a story here, and I've heard there is one, it would take a reader of greater tolerance than I to suss it.
Verity W
Mar 08, 2016 Verity W rated it liked it
Shelves: fahrenheit-books
I don't know why I didn't like this more. It has so much in it that I usually love, but for some reason it just didn't click for me completely. It's not a 2 star - because it did make me laugh in places, and I'll read the next one to see if I was just in a grump when I started this!
Dennis Fischman
Dec 14, 2013 Dennis Fischman rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, mystery
The setting, Restoration-era England, is authentic. The characters are something out of a comic opera, but still likeable. The mystery is a real potboiler, but not a chear: all the elements needed to solve it are there. It's just that it takes alchemy to turn those elements into a solution.
Apr 30, 2014 Louise rated it really liked it
A zany but clever mystery set in London in 1699. I had already read the second one in the series; this one was a little bit harder to get into but worth the effort. I am looking forward to the third one!
Lisa Durber
Jul 16, 2012 Lisa Durber rated it really liked it

This was a fun series quite tongue in cheek, but still held that good mystery
Marguerite Kaye
Mar 17, 2011 Marguerite Kaye rated it liked it
I loved this, a totally new take on the historical genre, and it was so witty, in places I was laughing out loud. Fabulous.
Oct 03, 2009 Phair rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was such a delightful story- hilarious cast of characters, fascinating and colorful setting, language that kept me chuckling away. This is a series I want to continue reading. More! more!
Jun 11, 2011 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Made it about halfway through before finally giving up. And I hardly ever throw in the towel with novels. This one had dry characters and a slow-moving plot, I just couldn't stay interested.
Jun 12, 2011 Elizabeth rated it it was ok
The fact that the Countess could be so smart on the one hand some times and so very, very stupid and blind two seconds later is what did me in.
Sep 25, 2016 Jo rated it really liked it
cheeky whodunit with raucous old ladies, busty wench maids, cross-dressing villains, and Isaac Newtonl. Laugh out loud cleverly written escapism.
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Actor, writer, director and historian, Fidelis Morgan is the author of a series of mystery novels featuring the Countess Ashby dela Zouche and a cast of outrageous characters. The books have been described as ‘A 17th century Armistead Maupin’, ‘Flashman for Girls’ ‘A bawdy PG Wodehouse’ and ‘Cagney and Lacey in Corsets.’
She has published many influential non-fiction works, mainly about the sevent
More about Fidelis Morgan...

Other Books in the Series

Countess Ashby De La Zouche (4 books)
  • The Rival Queens (Countess Ashby de la Zouche #2)
  • The Ambitious Stepmother (Countess Ashby De La Zouche #3)
  • Fortune's Slave (Countess Ashby De La Zouche #4)

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“— Так, мальчик… — Графиня пошарила в кармане. — Ты доведешь нас еще за несколько пенсов до Солсбери-Корта?
— До Солсбери-Корта? Этого логова грубых и жестоких дикарей? Поздно ночью? В туман? И без мужской защиты? — Мальчик скорчил гримасу и пустился наутек, крича на ходу: — Ни за что на свете!”
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