Thursday, April 23, 2015
Review: The Tapestry
By Nancy Bilyeau
Touchstone Books, March 2015
About the Book
The next page-turner in the award-winning Joanna Stafford series takes place in the heart of the Tudor court, as the gutsy former novice risks everything to defy the most powerful men of her era.
After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the king’s attention.
Joanna is uncomfortable serving the king and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after she arrives at Whitehall.
Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the king’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the king’s next wife and, possibly, victim.
Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.
This ended up being as fantastic and compulsively readable as the prior book in the series, The Chalice. If I had more spare time I probably would have read it straight through. Now I have to go back and read the first book. I enjoy reading this author as much as I enjoy reading Elizabeth Chadwick and Philippa Gregory. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and this era tops the list of my preferred century. Nancy Bilyeau has given me my fix, and I want more.
The interesting thing about this author is her ability to make me care about the welfare of the characters. Even though there is less romance in this book than I typically find in historical fiction, I couldn’t stop reading it. Joanna Stafford is a complex, likeable character. You understand her fear, her dilemmas, and her difficult choices. There are enough bad guys in this book to make you want to nibble on your nails as you read.
Her description of King Henry VIII during his latter years was well done. I could picture him in my mind as an overweight, indulgent, and diabetic man living in an age where there was no treatment. So his mood swings made total sense. No one could predict what he would do next. They just hoped he targeted someone else. I could smell the rotting flesh on his leg—not that it was pleasant, but it was realistic. It made me truly feel for Catherine Howard’s plight. There were enough interesting characters in this book to make it compelling, but not overwhelming.
I don’t want to give away any plot points, but I can tell you that it read like a mystery but with a little suspense tossed in. The executions were descriptive and a bit gross, but the author did not make them disgusting. There were a number of very tense moments that had me on the edge. The ending left room for another book in the series, but at the same time the author wrapped things up nicely.
So if you enjoy well-researched novels and want an insider’s look at Joanna Stafford’s somewhat fictionalized life, you’ll enjoy this one. No one related to King Henry VIII was secure or safe. The tables could turn at any moment. That’s all I’m saying.
Michelle Sutton author—Healing Hearts