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This reading group guide forIn a Treacherous Court includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
While en route to England from the Netherlands, royally commissioned artist Susanna Horenbout discovers a secret that could jeopardize the reign of King Henry VIII. As she and John Parker, one of the monarch’s most enigmatic courtiers, evade the ruthless enemy seeking to silence her, they become entwined in a deadly plot that reaches to the upper echelons of the royal inner circle. In In a Treacherous Court, Michelle Diener brings two of Tudor England’s most fascinating, lesser known historical figures vividly to life in a dazzling tale of intrigue and romance.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. As an artist commissioned by King Henry VIII, Susanna journeys to England for professional reasons. Discuss the personal circumstances that also compel her to leave Ghent. Why does she feel she has been “exiled” from her home?
2. The story takes place over a period of several days, during which Susanna and Parker go from just meeting each other to becoming engaged. How did you react to this rapid progression? Why do they trust each other implicitly almost from the start?
3. Susanna and Parker both have unusual backgrounds that set them apart from conventional society—as a female artist, she is a rarity, while he comes from an upper-class family but ended up in poverty. In what ways do these experiences influence their personal connection?
4. “She was trouble. He’d heard of these women in the Netherlands and Italy, whose fathers took them into their studios and trained them in the arts of painting and sculpture along with their brothers,” (p. 6) notes Parker when he first meets Susanna. Discuss how women artists are perceived in this society. Why do you think Susanna’s father choose this life for her? What kind of say did Susanna have in this decision?
5. Susanna admits that her training as an artist is “a mixed blessing” (p. 35). In what ways is it a benefit? How about a detriment? How do Susanna’s artistic skills help them uncover the plot against the King?
6. “I would make a poor wife,” (p. 100) Susanna tells Parker. Why does she believe that her career as an artist will prohibit her from marrying? Were you surprised when she later agreed to marry Parker?
7. Parker has a different relationship with Henry VIII than most, if not all, of the King’s other courtiers. Why does he feel such a deep sense of loyalty to the King? In what ways is Parker different from the typical aristocrats at court? How do his fellow courtiers view him?
8. After Parker discovers that the Duke of Norfolk is behind the plot to overthrow Henry VIII, how does he turn the tables on the nobleman? In what ways does Susanna play a crucial role in their pursuit to protect the throne? How are both of their fates intertwined with that of the King?
9. Discuss the scene on page 251 when Susanna joins the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. What does it reveal about the roles of women in courtly life? How do the ladies’ reactions to Susanna’s artistic talent differ from those of the men she has encountered?
10. What prompts the normally reserved Parker to do something so out of character and ask the King for permission to marry Susanna in front of a gathering of courtiers? What do you think he would have done if the King had refused his request?
11. In the Author’s Note, Michelle Diener explains which aspects of In a Treacherous Court were based on true events and which ones she created for the novel. Share your thoughts on the story line, including the romantic and mystery elements. What is your opinion of how the author presents more well-known historical figures, like Henry VIII and George Boleyn?
12. How does In a Treacherous Court compare to other works of historical fiction your group has read, including books set in Tudor England? Are you interested in reading Michelle Diener’s follow-up novel to In a Treacherous Court? Why or why not?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. As a nod to Susanna’s profession, take an art class, visit a gallery or museum, or provide supplies and have members try their hands at sketching before your discussion of In aTreacherous Court.
2. In the Author’s Note, Michelle Diener praises Alison Weir and “thank[s] the stars for a historian like her.” Along with In a Treacherous Court, read and discuss Weir’s nonfiction work Henry VIII: The King and His Court.
Michelle Diener has always had a passion for reading and writing. She began writing stories when her parents gave her a typewriter for her twelfth birthday, and she hasn’t stopped since. Born in London and raised in South Africa, she now lives on the west coast of Australia with her husband and two small children.