There are already so many historical fiction novels set in the Tudor court that for a book to stand out from the others the author really needs to find a new way to approach the subject. Michelle Diener’s In A Treacherous Court is refreshingly different because it features two interesting but little-known historical figures – John Parker and Susanna Horenbout – both of whom really existed, yet aren’t characters that you would usually find in Tudor novels. Despite having read a lot of books set during this period, I had never come across either of these people until now.
Susanna Horenbout is a Flemish artist who travels to the court of Henry VIII in 1525 to become the king’s illuminator. During the journey to England, a man dies on board the ship and Susanna is at his side as he whispers his dying words, a secret message that he wants her to deliver to the King. It seems that someone is afraid of what Susanna may have learned, because as soon as she arrives in England an attempt is made on her life. One of the King’s most trusted courtiers, John Parker, Yeoman of the Crossbows, has been sent to meet the ship and after discovering how much danger Susanna is in, he vows to protect her while at the same time trying to unravel a plot that could threaten Henry’s throne.
In a Treacherous Court is the first in a series and after reading this one, I think both Susanna Horenbout and John Parker have a lot of potential as characters. As historians know so little about their lives, it gives the author some freedom to create exciting adventures for them without being too restricted by what really happened (the story does stick to the historical facts where possible though, and there is an author’s note at the end of the book that explains which parts of the novel are based on truth and which are purely fictional). I did find the romance between Susanna and Parker a bit hard to believe as it all seemed to happen so quickly, but who can say whether or not their relationship might really have developed the way it did in the novel?
The plot is very fast-paced with lots of action in every chapter which makes the story fun to read, although I thought the constant murder attempts and attacks on Susanna did become a bit repetitive. This book is definitely at the lighter end of the historical fiction spectrum, but it’s certainly an entertaining read with some original ideas that give it a different feel from most of the other Tudor court novels I’ve read.
I received a review copy of In a Treacherous Court from Simon & Schuster