Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau


In the next novel from Nancy Bilyeau after her acclaimed debut The Crown, novice Joanna Stafford plunges into an even more dangerous conspiracy as she comes up against some of the most powerful men of her era. 

In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last.

Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies…

Touchstone Publishing | March 5, 2013 | 512 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Nancy Bilyeau's latest novel, The Chalice, reintroduces readers to Joanna Stafford, the heroine of Bilyeau's debut novel The Crown (click here for my review).  The Chalice opens a few months after the conclusion of The Crown and finds Joanna, after being forced to leave Dartford Priory when Henry VIII dissolves religious houses across England, settling into a new home in the town of Dartford and trying to start a new life by establishing herself as a tapestry maker.  Joanna's life, however, is fated to be anything but peaceful and although she struggles against it, Joanna comes to realize that she may have to engage in activities foretold by prophecy.  But these activities put Joanna directly in the path of some of England's most powerful men, including her nemesis Bishop Gardiner, and see her unwittingly become part of a nefarious international plot against the King.  While it has been foretold what the repercussions for England will be should the prophecies fail to materialize, Joanna is not comfortable with the role she is slated to play in their realization.  As a result, Joanna must look inside herself and determine what to do, even if doing the right thing puts her own life, and the lives of those she loves, at risk. 

One of the things I like best about The Chalice, much as I did with The Crown, is that the events within it are entirely plausible.  No matter what situation Joanna finds herself in her ability to get out of them doesn't require either superhuman effort on her part or the reader to suspend belief.   Joanna continues to be a remarkable character, one for whom it is very easy for readers to like.   Nancy Bilyeau has done a great job showing how Joanna struggles to come to terms with both her new life outside of the priory and with her role in the fulfillment of the prophecies.   While the bulk of the narrative is concerned with the prophecies, The Chalice does contain a romantic subplot.  This subplot, which didn't develop quite the way I thought it would based on events in The Crown, is well-done and interesting.   Underlying the narrative is the religious upheaval that is a hallmark of Henry VIII's reign.  This theme proves to be one of the most interesting aspects of the novel, especially given the focus is on figures, such as Joanna, most affected by the suppression and dissolution of England's great religious houses. 

Fast-paced, well-written, with an engaging storyline and characters, The Chalice is every bit as good as The Crown.  I'm very much looking forward to seeing where Joanna Stafford goes next. 

Recommended to all fans of historical fiction and historical thrillers/mysteries. 

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Be sure to check the other stops on the tour.  You can view the tour schedule by clicking here.  
Follow the tour on Twitter: #TheChaliceVirtualTour

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. Her latest position is features editor of Du Jour magazine. A native of the Midwest, she graduated from the University of Michigan. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

For more information, please visit Nancy Bilyeau's website.  You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.