(Cover picture courtesy of Michelle Diener’s website.)
1525: Artist Susanna Horenbout is sent from Belgium to be Henry VIII’s personal illuminator inside the royal palace. But her new homeland greets her with an attempt on her life, and the King’s most lethal courtier, John Parker, is charged with keeping her safe. As further attacks are made, Susanna and Parker realize that she unknowingly carries the key to a bloody plot against the throne. For while Richard de la Pole amasses troops in France for a Yorkist invasion, a traitor prepares to trample the kingdom from within.
Who is the mastermind? Why are men vying to kill the woman Parker protects with his life? With a motley gang of urchins, Susanna’s wits, and Parker’s fierce instincts, honed on the streets and in palace chambers, the two slash through deadly layers of deceit in a race against time. For in the court of Henry VIII, secrets are the last to die…
Brilliantly revealing a little-known historical figure who lived among the Tudors, Michelle Diener makes a smashing historical fiction debut.
[Full disclosure: I requested a review copy from Michelle Diener and was sent a free physical copy in exchange for an honest review.]
As much as I’ve read about the Tudors I never actually heard of Susanna Horenbout or John Parker. It’s strange because you’d have thought that a female illuminator would be mentioned frequently (if only because it was such a rarity) but Susanna really hasn’t been recognized by history. Michelle Diener meant to remedy that in this book.
Susanna is an amazing character. I like how she’s constantly trying to prove herself in a world where men don’t really believe she is a talented artist. It’s not a typical girl empowerment story so much as a very realistic portrayal of the attitudes of the time. At the same time, Susanna loves her art. She loves to draw and paint and she’s good at it. Inspiration strikes her at odd times but she’s not your typical day-dreaming artist either.
She has a good head on her shoulders and she’s more than a match for the cunning, somewhat ruthless John Parker. John Parker is also a fascinating character. His horrible childhood combined with his ruthless determination to serve King Henry VIII would make him interesting enough, but it’s his change in personality caused by Susanna that really makes him memorable. Both characters change as they spend more and more time in each others’ company.
The plot was very fast-paced, but obviously not at the expense of character development. There’s assassins lurking behind every corner, romantic intrigue aplenty as well as plots that strike at the heart of England’s court. Michelle Diener did fabricate some of the details but in her note at the end I liked how she justified her decisions to change history just a little bit. She blended history and speculation together perfectly and it all came together in a great novel.
From the moment you read the first sentence, you’re sucked back in time. From its filthy streets to the hostile/merry court of Henry VIII you feel like you’re right there with Susanna and John. You feel their emotions as their own, especially their pain, love and determination. I can’t honestly speak to the total historical accuracy of In a Treacherous Court but I can tell you that the major details are accurate and Michelle Diener certainly created a very authentic feeling with the details of daily life in Tudor England. That’s what’s really important in historical fiction.
Basically, this was a great debut novel and I can’t wait to read about the rest of Susanna and John’s adventures.
I give this book 5/5 stars.