It’s 1543. Henry VIII has divorced England from the Church of Rome, but his Privy Council remains a nest of vipers, a fearsome place for master goldsmith Thomas Treviot to meddle.
Historian Wilson’s U.S. fiction debut finds the "unbending oak," King Henry, rotten with illness. A papist conspiracy has led to the fall of the powerful reformer Thomas Cromwell, Lord Great Chamberlain. With that, "the fate of the English church lay entirely in the hands of Thomas Cranmer," Archbishop of Canterbury. Treviot is pulled into this "world of secrecy, subterfuge and violence" because he often completed commissions for Johannes Holbein, royal portraitist. Holbein was the reformer’s window into court machinations. Now Holbein’s disappeared. Is another papist plot brewing? Cranmer decides Treviot’s friendship with Holbein makes him the man to find the missing artist. In a tale unfolding smoothly and believably, Wilson offers action and intrigue on every page, whether it’s Treviot galloping across a plague-riven London or through a misty countryside ravaged by crop failure or finding himself embroiled in skirmishes among knaves wielding clubs, knives, and rapiers. Minor characters add charm: Morice, Cranmer’s Machiavellian but good-hearted secretary; kind Ned Longbourne, apothecary and former monk; and bold, clever, and outspoken Lizzie, once brothel-bound, now married to Treviot’s assistant. There are Tudor descriptions—"malapert rogue"—and invective—"shut your snout, hedge pig!"—damsels in distress, children kidnapped, heraldic confusions, and meals of "venison, carp, marchpane cake, and muscadel." Treviot confronts patronizing aristocrats, obstreperous petty officials, and the villains, one a fey anti-reformist aristocrat called the Popinjay and the other Black Harry, a cutthroat zealot who served the Spanish Inquisition.
First-rate historical fiction.