Painter Susanna Horenbout arrives on the shores of England as the quiet observer of tragedy, and the unwitting witness to a web of intrigue that reaches up to the highest levels of the Tudor court. Her life is in danger from the moment she makes port in Deal and meets Yeoman of the Crossbows John Parker, who soon becomes her only hope of survival against an unseen enemy who would kill to keep her from sharing deathbed secrets.
The action begins almost immediately in Michelle Diener’s In a Treacherous Court, the story of Henry VIII’s illuminator who becomes privy to a complex plot that could topple the mighty king from his throne. Parker, after a close call on the ship, takes Susanna into his protection and ventures from the back streets of London to Greenwich Palace in a quest to unravel the plot and expose the conspirators before it is too late. Danger lurks behind every corner for Parker and Susanna, and for those close to them, and with each step closer it becomes even more difficult to determine who is a friend…and who is a foe.
As the two fight alongside one another and seek to solve the mystery, they soon find that their hearts are in perhaps as much danger as their lives. Can they overcome their personal doubts and fears to come together, and will they live long enough to try for ever after?
Diener has set a standard for what good historical fiction ought to be, a perfect blend of accurate historical fact (gleaned from the works of recognized Tudor scholar Alison Weir) and a skillfully crafted story that takes real characters and imagines how they might have been given a set of different circumstances. Also, it is refreshing to read a novel set during Henry VIII’s reign that is not exclusively centered on Anne Boleyn and her circle (and, in fact, does not feature the doomed queen at all – merely a cameo by her equally ill-fated brother); rather, several other dynamic and high-profile individuals have the chance to play their part in a story that spread out over decades.
Diener’s writing style is inviting: the light use of dialect accents each scene rather than defining it and the narrative is easy to follow without feeling too juvenile. Even peripheral characters have distinct personalities, and the main characters’ attitudes are consistent with how we understand their real-life counterparts to have been. The conclusion, though not completely “happy”, was immensely satisfying on a personal level while remaining steady with what history records occurs after the last page.
In a Treacherous Court was truly a delight to read on many levels, and I think even readers who don’t typically enjoy historical fiction would find this a great addition to their reading list.
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her fianc é and a room full of books that she peruses when she isn’t trolling Apartment Therapy for new decorating ideas. In her free time she enjoys maintaining her blog, The Writer’s Closet, planning her wedding, and baking tasty gluten-free treats.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Gallery Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.