In a Treacherous Court
Gallery Books, Simon & Schuster, $15.00
Henry VIII’s most lethal courtier and his newly appointed artist become the only thing keeping him on the throne—and if they survive, neither will ever be the same.
John Parker is one of Henry VIII most useful courtiers—utterly merciless and completely loyal. But one small favor for his King will pull Parker into a deadly plot against the throne, one that will test his courage, his resolve, and most especially, his heart.
A commission from Henry VIII should have been the crowning achievement of Susanna Horenbout’s career, but before the beautiful and talented artist even sets foot in England, she finds herself in possession of a secret that could change its history. With Parker as her only protection against killers who will stop at nothing to silence her, Susanna has to trust the dangerous, enigmatic courtier. She’s used to fighting in a man’s world, but she never expected to be fighting for her life.
In this stirring debut novel, author Michelle Diener pens a riveting glance at the dark side of King Henry VIII’s court. Diener blends a modern day thriller element with a strong, forward thinking heroine who searches the world for more than just a suitable husband.
Like The Tudors, the story is filled with angst and intrigue, but Diener includes other real historical characters who have been relegated to obscurity. The imagery, tone and carefully researched details draw the reader into 15th Century London whilst the characters capture your heart.
Susanna, a painter from Ghent, has been trained by her father Gerald Horenbout, an illuminator, and sent to England as the king’s royal painter—a position no woman has ever held, until now.
Though most courtiers, especially the women, look upon Susanna with disdain, she embraces her unconventional profession, as much as she does her attraction to John Parker. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Susanna longs not for a life as a mother and wife, but as an artist, renowned and well respected.
“Albrecht Dürer himself had bought a platlein (painting) of the Savior … exclaiming that he had never thought a girl could accomplish so much. The sting of the backhanded compliment was less, coming from…the world’s finest artist.”
While en route to England, Susanna comforts a dying man, and unwittingly bears witness to a confession she was never supposed to hear: a plot against the king. She also meets, and is attracted to, John Parker.
John, the king’s man, is a ruthless, intelligent courtier whose only loyalty is to Henry. He is sent to greet Susanna, and immediately is confronted with the first assassination attempt on her life. There are many suspects; so many, in fact, who would do harm to the king, that there is a real mystery here. Meanwhile, Susanna maneuvers her way into the king’s good graces with her wit and talent.
Once the conspirators are apprehended, and the plot against the king is foiled, Henry grants John a boon:
“A boon?” Henry struggled to his feet, hauling Parker up with him. “Parker would have a boon of me!” The King’s shout echoed around the room.
Parker held himself still. He should have known better than to ask now.
There were yells and boos and cheers from the crowd.
“What would you have of me, my friends? My bearer of good news?”
Parker looked at the now-quieter gathering of courtiers, saw the avid curiosity in their faces. What the hell. At least he could extract this promise with witnesses. There would be no going back for Henry if it didn’t suit him when he was sober.
“I would have permission to take a wife.”
The roar of approval deafened him, swelling around the room and crashing over him like a tidal wave.
“Parker the Cold? Parker the Merciless? Parker the Lone Wolf? Would take a wife?” Henry tugged Parker even closer in the headlock. “Is she wealthy or connected to the nobility.”
There was laughter again; some of it closer to sniggers.
“But then by do you want her?” Henry’s voice was quiet, which forced the others to quiet as well.
Parker studied those in the room, saw some friends, even more enemies, and did not care who heard. “I would marry for love, Your Majesty.”
In a time where men and women of gentle or noble birth married for political, dynastic or financial reasons, Susanna Horenbout, the passionate painter, and John Parker, a ruthless courtier, managed what few could: a union for love alone.
A.J. Wilson, Shark By Day, Lover Of All Things Plaid By Night – ajwilsononline.net