Set in 1485 against the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth when the first Tudor King Henry VII took the throne from Richard III, Satin Cinnabar is both an off-beat historical romance and a straight forward murder-mystery-adventure. These plots and sub-plots interweave, held together by the strong atmospheric medieval backgrounds and the depth of characterization.
On his escape from the abandoned battlefield, Alex, younger son of a slain lord, throws off his armour which would mark him as a knight of the vanquished Yorkists. The Lady Katherine, having heard tales of marauding soldiers both vanquished and victorious, is dressed for greater safety as a boy. She and Alex, both in disguise, meet in unusual circumstances.
Now the conquered lords once loyal to King Richard are in danger of losing their titles, their property and their heads, by order of the emergent Tudor monarch attempting to forge new loyalties for himself. Law and order seem under threat so Alex quickly goes into hiding. He takes refuge in the kitchens of old friends, remains incognito, and impersonates a servant. It is during his unorthodox sojourn in the kitchens that Alex encounters Katherine once again. Given in an arranged marriage, the lady is now reluctantly wedded to the new lord of the house, recently knighted by the king. Alex and Katherine come face to face for the second time and begin a most unorthodox courtship.
But Alex’s cousin, newly pardoned and released from the Tower, is discovered murdered. The particular circumstances of his death put Alex under considerable suspicion, especially when Katherine’s bridegroom also dies suddenly, albeit of natural causes. The parish priest believes Alex guilty of double murder, and is persistent. He gives evidence against Alex, leading to his arrest and incarceration in Newgate prison – a veritable hell during that period. Discovering the true murderer, overcoming his enemies, and convincing Katherine that marriage with the right person might actually be an excellent prospect after all, involves Alex for the rest of the book.
The consequent adventures take place against a background of reeking bustle, the confusion of medieval London’s prosperous growth, back alleys, the horrors of Newgate Prison, the sewerage ridden river, the quarrelsome and diverse population, and all the inevitable power struggle, politics and turmoil accompanying the very beginning of the new Tudor dynasty.
Review: As I started reading Satin Cinnabar, I was feeling very graphic images of battle scenes in my mind and thought at first I was watching a Mel Gibson Gladiator movie. The introduction of the main hero and his situation was very well written as it takes you into the scene of the battle. Next, Barbara introduces you to the heroine and explains a bit of her background using some friction of both characters. I really felt intrigued and wanted to continue reading as the imagery was flowing. I picked this book to read and review as I enjoy historical romances however, I was mystified of how the novel was going to turn out as I continues reading this book.
As there was interesting background characters such as Mary, Elizabeth and Alex’s cousin. I enjoyed reading about the different spices and about the science Alex would learn from the Spiceman of the different herbs. I am wondering if the author had a background in herbs and spices as I would not think to make herbs and spices a murder weapon.
I was shocked as there was a bit of sex scenes in this novel as it was more of survival than of romance which many romance tend to not do. However, if Barbara had incorporated a lot of sex scenes, I believe, it would not fit in this story line, so this was impressive. I really enjoyed the romance story combined with a murder/mystery plotline made this a novelty for someone who reads a lot of romance suspense.
Warning: I’d suggest that anyone who is not much for reading about graphic violence, this story has a lot of graphic battle scenes and images. As I started reading it, the violence stood out as Alex’s cousin dies. If someone was sensitive to reading about murder and blood, I would recommend that they do not read this novel as the murder and the enemies were nasty. I had a hard time reading this book in one sitting as I enjoyed reading carefully of the chapters so I could figure out who was harming some of the characters. I would want to read another novel of this author, but probably want a less depressing murder story, however it did make you sit on the edge, hoping to figure out the killer. I believe a story exploring more of Alex and Katherine’s romance and maybe a continuation of their potential offspring would be interesting to read.