I applaud Linda Lafferty for what she attempted to do with her novel. The characters and events are actually based on a somewhat true/folkloric tale, that tells the story of Don Julius and his infatuation with Markéta Pichlerová, a Bohemian bath maid and daughter of his bloodletter. Don Julius was a real person, and the illegitimate child of Emperor Rudolf II. He had an ill-balanced mind, and was sent to seek treatment from the bloodletter to “balance his humours.” It is not known whether the character of Markéta existed, but the story goes that Don Julius was so infatuated with her but threated to kill her many times, due to his ill balanced mind, and finally he did, disfiguring her body terribly.
Lafferty attempts to construct a fictional narrative of Markéta’s life, as a strong willed smart young woman not content to simply be a bathmaid like her mother for the rest of her life. At the same time however, Markéta is still young and naïve and her belief that Don Julius would protect her may seem crazy, but is also understandable. Lafferty does a good job crafting her characters.
There were however, some stylistic problems as the dialogue was choppy and did not always flow naturally. While Lafferty does a good job with the profiles of Markéta and Don Julius, the other characters seem a bit cliché and scripted. I also wish Lafferty talked a bit more about the medical history of the time; the beliefs surround bloodletting and the balancing of the humours is so interesting, but is only slightly touched upon.
Still, Lafferty does a good job, telling a compelling story from a time period that does not gain a great deal of attention in the realm of historical fiction (17th century Bohemia). It’s a fast read for anyone interested in the time period.