Ever since Henry VI was an infant, his relatives and successors-apparent have been jockeying for power in the realm, and now that it’s 1447, the 25th anniversary of his reign, nothing has changed. Henry’s uncle, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, who’d retired to Wales for health reasons after his wife was imprisoned five years ago, has been summoned to a session of Parliament in Bury St. Edmonds, where he has reason to believe at least one of his longtime rivals, Bishop Henry Beaufort of Winchester and the Marquise of Suffolk, will be waiting for him with hired knives drawn. As the session looms, Frazer focuses on two outsiders even further from royal power than the Duke: Arteys FitzGloucester, his beloved bastard son, who’s accompanied his father despite his misgivings about the journey, and the indispensable Dame Frevisse, the Benedictine nun of St. Frideswide (The Clerk’s Tale, 2002, etc.), attending her cousin Alice, Suffolk’s wife. Fears of perfidy prove well founded when Suffolk, who’s spread the rumor that Gloucester is advancing on the town with an army, has him arrested for treason, and things go from bad to worse when Arteys, secretly visiting the ailing prisoner, catches someone trying to murder him, kills the killer in turn, and then can’t imagine how he’ll escape Suffolk’s revenge—unless Frevisse turns up with a well-timed stratagem for setting him free.
No pretense of mystery, and not much suspense either, though Frazer executes her exercise—inserting Frevisse into a dramatic episode in 15th-century history—with audacity and ingenuity.