In Defense of the Queen
Artist Susanna Horenbout was almost certainly employed by Henry VIII as his illuminator. None of Susanna’s paintings have survived, and very little is known of her. Intrigued by the success of a Flemish woman in a male-dominated profession at the English court, Michelle Diener has crafted her a fictional context. In Defense of the Queen is Susanna’s third adventure but easily stands alone.
Susanna’s life in London is interrupted by the arrival of her brother. Although pleased to see him, Susanna worries he will usurp her position at court. However, Lucas Horenbout carries more than professional rivalry to England; he is the bearer of a secret missive to the embattled Katherine of Aragon. Susanna must choose where her loyalty lies: to Henry Tudor, or to her family and Queen Katherine. Unfortunately, others already know of the letter and will do anything to prevent its delivery. Susanna finds herself shot at, accused of treason, and betrayed by those she thought friends. The plot twists and turns, a second plot rears its ugly head, and the action never stops. Diener has crafted a clever and intricate story, bolstered by solid historical detail and sweetened by the romance between Susanna and the King’s courtier, John Parker.
I have a few reservations. Diener tends to employ rather one-dimensional antagonists. Cardinal Wolsey is, as in the preceding volume, an unmitigated villain, and the assassin, Jean, is simply psychopathic. Secondly, Susanna and Parker’s romantic relationship is rather static. I also found the message to the Queen unconvincing in content and importance. Finally, while the second plot surrounding the King’s bastard son supplied a very believable sense of urgency, it appeared quite abruptly in the middle of a drama purportedly concerning the defense of the Queen. Minor criticisms of what is overall a fast-paced, well-researched historical adventure.