In a Treacherous Court
by Michelle Diener
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
In a Treacherous Court is a romantic thriller set during the reign of Henry VIII before Anne Boleyn complicated his life. The story revolves around two characters drawn from history. Susanna Horenbout was a Dutch artist who, at eighteen, impressed Albrecht Dürer enough that he bought one of her works. She and her family later settled in England. John Parker was an official in King Henry's court.
As the story opens, Susanna is just arriving in England, where her father has sent her to serve King Henry as an illuminator. Another ship passenger, knifed while boarding, was bringing the king a message, which he confided to her before dying. Parker, Henry's Yeoman of the Crossbows, is meeting the ship to take possession of a shipment of crossbows. After saving Susanna from an assailant who evidently does not want the message delivered, Parker must also take responsibility for bringing her safely to court. The danger continually mounts as one scruffy hired killer after another pursues them.
Readers may find it hard to warm up to Parker because of the emphasis on his ruthless killer instincts. "He had never had much use for pity, even before he became a leashed wolf for the King. Now he had gnawed through his tether and the wolf was running wild." He is, however, loyal to Henry and soon becomes obsessed with protecting Susanna, who inflames his desire to an extent no woman has before.
Susanna's artistry introduces some charming moments. "But there was no fun for her in producing a faithful rendition of the scene. She slipped in a tiny mouse, peeping from behind a guard's shoe.... From the patterned silk paneling, a small songbird broke free of the fabric..." On the whole, though, the characters exist only to serve the breathlessly violent plot as Susanna and Parker barely manage to survive the onslaughts of numerous killers doing the bidding of a plotter in the king's court. (2011; 301 pages, including an Author's Note distinguishing fact from the hearty dollops of fiction)
More about In a Treacherous Court at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Other Tudor-era thrillers:
The Bones of Avalon by Phil Rickman (2011), a mystery featuring Queen Elizabeth's astrologer Doctor John Dee as sleuth, teaming up with Robert Dudley to find out what happened to King Arthur's bones after the dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey. See review or more info at Powell's Books
Martyr by Rory Clements (2009), a thriller featuring John Shakespeare, Will's elder brother, searching for an assassin believed to have been sent by the Spanish to kill Queen Elizabeth; #1 in the John Shakespeare series. More info
Roanoke by Margaret Lawrence (2009), about a man sent by Queen Elizabeth's advisers to the doomed colony of Roanoke to seduce an Indian princess and get information from her about a legendary treasure. More info
Nonfiction about Henry VIII and his court:
Henry VIII: The King and his Court by Alison Weir (2001). Weir's nonfiction history books are recommended by author Michelle Diener. More info
Henry: Virtuous Prince by David Starkey (2008). More info
A Brief History of Henry VIII, Reformer and Tyrant by Derek Wilson (2009). More info
Brief biographical sketch of Susanna Horenbout at www.KateEmersonHistoricals.com (scroll down to find her in the alphabetical list of Tudor-era women)
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