Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: The Crown

The Crown
By Nancy Bilyeau
Touchstone, September 2012

About the Book

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him. To save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide whom she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

My Review

During Joanna’s frantic search for the crown, Cromwell’s men push ahead, closing down abbeys across the country. She encounters a number of others during her journey, none of whom she can entirely trust: Norfolk, her ruthless cousin-in-law; rigid Prioress Joan, who has suspicious ties to Cromwell; Brother Edmund, a friar with healing talents who has a shameful secret of his own; Geoffrey Scoville, constable of Rochester who often comes to Joanna’s rescue and harbors a romantic interest in her; Lord Chester, a lecherous noble who threatens to reveal Dartford’s “secrets”; Lady Mary, Henry VIII’s oldest daughter and one of Cromwell’s biggest enemies; and Sister Helen, a mute nun with an urgent secret to share; among many others. An elaborate chess game ensues, with each party racing for the crown for their own reasons.

Concerned that a book with a nun for a heroine will be too bland? This historical thriller will prove you wrong! Bilyeau’s debut novel has Joanna Stafford (a fictional character, niece of the executed third Duke of Buckingham and related, by marriage, to the Duke of Norfolk) as the lead investigator in a tale that effortlessly combines the story of England’s Reformation with medieval legend, political greed, spirituality, loyalty, and bravery.

Joanna’s backstory, as the daughter of one of Katherine of Aragon’s Spanish ladies, adds as much to the story as the legend of Athelstan’s crown. Joanna fights for her father, for her faith, and for herself—the final scene where she declares that she is “no one’s creature” is triumphant and moving. I see many reviewers complained about the frequent flashbacks, which do slow things down a bit at the beginning, but are necessary for the full story to unfold.

This book is beautifully written, meticulously researched, and vividly drawn—a true nail biter—and a story so intricately woven that it’s a real joy to read. I will be continuing Sister Joanna’s story in Bilyeau’s follow-up, The Chalice, and I highly suggest you do the same!

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

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