This is Nancy Bilyeau’s third installment of the trials and tribulations of former novice of the Dominican order and aristocrat Joanna Stafford. After having her priory demolished by decree of King Henry VIII during the English Reformation, Joanna finds herself living contentedly in the small English town of Dartford, weaving elegant tapestries that provide her an income.
When the king, who is a distant cousin, orders her to the Palace of Whitehall in London to receive a commission for a tapestry, she has mixed emotions. She’s not a fan of King Henry, but she is anxious to see her cousin, Catherine Howard, who is one of the queen’s maids of honor. And she knows it’s not wise to ignore a kingly order.
While she travels, she feels watched, but sees no one. Upon arriving at Whitehall’s gatehouse, a page offers to take her to the Keeper of the Great Wardrobe, who is in charge of tapestries. Instead he leads her to an outbuilding where he attempts to kill her. She’s rescued by Thomas Culpepper. It’s clear someone wants her dead, but she doesn’t know why. The royal court is filled with rumors, treachery, and intrigue, and men—and women—with hidden agendas. Not knowing whom she can trust, Joanna sets to unravel the mystery with the help of Constable Geoffrey Scovill, a friend and former suitor from Dartford.
It’s obvious that the award-winning Bilyeau knows her English history. In this meticulously researched Tudor thriller, the names of the real-life characters who populated Henry VIII’s court come fast and furious. In addition to Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper, figures include Lord of the Privy Thomas Cromwell, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Archbishop Thomas Kranmer, Sir Walter Hungerford, and Anne of Cleves, the king’s sad fourth wife caught in a six-month unconsummated marriage. With the many references and situations that refer back to the first two books in the series, it’s recommended that those books be read first.