Reviewed by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer
To Serve a King by Donna Russo Morin is a novel of 16th century France. The heroine, Genevieve Gravois, believes she is the sole survivor of a fire that killed both her parents. Her aunt and King Henry VIII of England both tell her the fire had been set by the King of France, Francois I, and from that moment on, a deep hatred for the French king takes root inside the young girl’s soul. As she grows to womanhood, she swears fealty to King Henry, and in return, he educates and trains her to one day become his spy. Genevieve learns to cipher and decipher secret codes and learns to skilfully arm and defend her life with various weapons. Finally, Genevieve is sent to take her place in the court of her enemy, King Francois. There, she immerses herself into the highest levels of the French court, and begins her secret duties as a spy for the English king, sending him secret missives about politics and the actions of the French king. As her life becomes more and more immersed into the opulence and intrigues of the court nobility, Genevieve slowly comes to the realization that all is not as it seems – those who she believes are enemies are not always adversaries and her friends cannot always be trusted.
In the novel, To Serve A King, Donna Russo Morin brings to life the affluence and magnificence of the 16th century French court. Important persons of the era make appearances in the story; from Nostradamus and the infamous Diane de Poitiers, to Catherine de Medici and Anne d'Heilly, lending credibility and historical detail to the story. As the tale unfolds, the heroine progresses from a determined young woman obsessed at revenge, to one who begins to question her own values and beliefs as loyalties are tested and secrets revealed. Numerous interesting character interactions and intrigues hold the reader's interest throughout the story. The chapter endings are exquisite, and hook the reader to turn the page to read more.
This novel sweeps readers into a turbulent time and takes us into the court of King Francois of France who surrounded himself with the best art, music, and artists of the time. What I enjoyed is although the Tudors are part of the story, they, for once, are not the focus. I liked the author's portrayal of the King of France's portrayal, for even though he is the heroine's nemesis, he comes across as kind hearted, heroic, and magnaimous, which is how I believe he truly was viewed by his people.
Impeccably researched, and strewn with delightful descriptions of clothing, furniture, and the aromatic foods of the period, one cannot help but truly enjoy the experience that comes from reading this novel. The reader is drawn by the strength and determination of the affable heroine. From laughter and joy, to sadness and fear, the reader experiences a realm of emotions as the heroine outwits her adversaries and dodges danger as she learns the real truth about her past. For anyone who loves historical fiction with feisty heroines set in majestic surroundings, this make a very satisfying, enjoyable read. Like all of Donna Russo Morin’s novels, this one is sure to entertain.