Donna Russo Morin places her third historical novel, To Serve a King, in the Tudor era. While it opens with Henry VIII during the Field of the Cloth of Gold, most of the novel takes place in the court of Henry’s nemesis, François I.
Genevieve Gravois was brainwashed from a young age into believing that French king François I was responsible for the death of her parents. Raised in isolation by her cold, distant aunt, Genevieve received an education in spying and assassination. She learned how to write and decode ciphers. She became highly skilled with a bow and dagger. English king Henry VIII supervised her tutelage from afar, intending to install her in the French court.
When Genevieve is ready, she goes to court to serve as a lady in waiting to Duchesse d’Etampes – the king’s mistress. Pretending to be loyal to her mistress and the French king, Genevieve eavesdrops on their conversations. Later, she secretly sends messages to Henry VIII, informing him of the goings-on at court.
As Genevieve comes more integrated into courtly life, she begins to have a crisis of conscience. She starts to question her long-held beliefs about François I as she gets to know him. His personality is incongruous with what she was told about him, and a brief encounter with Henry VIII shakes Genevieve’s faith in him. Does she continue her loyalty to Henry, or does she accept the love and friendship she finds at the French court?
Morin effectively draws the reader into the captivating and opulent world of the French court, but with a few caveats. The intriguing storyline offers a few unexpected twists, but one of them in particular – when Genevieve encounters a strange woman in Calais – ultimately leads nowhere. I found the overuse of similes throughout the novel to be tedious at times, but overall, I enjoyed To Serve a King.