Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review & Giveaway: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

An aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father-and preserve the Catholic faith from Cromwell's ruthless terror. The year is 1537. . .
Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred 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.

The ruthless Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, takes terrifying steps to force Joanna to agree to spy for him: to save her father's life she must find an ancient relic-a crown so powerful, it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns home to Dartford Priory and searches in secret for this long-lost piece of history worn by the Saxon King Athelstan in 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain.

But Dartford Priory has become a dangerous place, and when more than one dead body is uncovered, Joanna departs with a sensitive young monk, Brother Edmund, to search elsewhere for the legendary crown. From royal castles with tapestry-filled rooms to Stonehenge to Malmesbury Abbey, the final resting place of King Athelstan, Joanna and Brother Edmund must hurry to find the crown if they want to keep Joanna's father alive. At Malmesbury, secrets of the crown are revealed that bring to light the fates of the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted, and Katherine of Aragon's first husband, Arthur. The crown's intensity and strength are beyond the earthly realm and it must not fall into the wrong hands.

With Cromwell's troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must now decide who she can trust with the secret of the crown 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

4 Stars

The Crown, author Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel, is an engaging, action-packed historical thriller that is sure to delight fans of Tudor-era fiction.  Set during the English Reformation, the novel centres around a young novice, Joanna Stafford, who, after breaking the rule of enclosure to go to London to show her support for a cousin condemned to death as a traitor, finds herself in the Tower of London for interfering in the King's Justice.  While in the Tower, Joanna is approached by Bishop Stephen Gardiner, a close advisor to King Henry VIII, and asked to covertly locate an ancient relic -- the Athelstan Crown -- believed to be hidden at Dartford Priory.  With her father's life at stake if she refuses, Joanna has no choice but to accept the Bishop's request.  Cleared of all charges against her, Joanna, accompanied by two Dominican monks, returns to Dartford Priory and sets out to achieve her objective of finding the crown.  Locating the relic, which has been hidden for hundreds of years, is harder than Joanna bargained for, and is hampered by a number of unforeseen events at the Priory, including a murder and the arrival of Thomas Cromwell's commissioners, who were involved in the dissolution of the monasteries.   While Dartford Priory has always been a place of quiet refuge for Joanna, her quest for Athelstan's crown and events within the Priory itself reveals a hidden world of secrets and intrigues and it soon becomes apparent to Joanna that not everyone is as they seem. 

Full of rich historical detail, The Crown focuses on life in a priory in the midst of the suppression of England's religious houses.  In my reading experience, this is a subject not prominently featured in Tudor-era historical fiction.   One of the greatest strengths of this novel is the plausibility of the plot, which does not suffer from an excess of unbelievable events or feature a heroine who is repeatedly able to get herself out of impossible situations.   Instead, Bilyeau has crafted a smart historical thriller that features events and actions entirely within the realm of the possible and set firmly within a proper historical context.  The novel's protagonist, Joanna, is well-drawn and sympathetic.  The supporting characters, whether hero or villain, are engaging.   While the quest for the crown is the main focus of this novel, it also contains various subplots, including the murder of a nobleman staying at Dartford Priory, that provide an additional element of mystery.   These sub-plots serve to compliment the primary story line rather than bog it down, and I was just as interested in them as I was in the main plot.    Although I had some inklings about how some of various story lines would be resolved, for the most part the narrative leaves the reader guessing right up until the end.   I look forward to hearing more from Nancy Bilyeau, and hope that we haven't heard the last of Joanna Stafford! 

This novel is highly recommended to fans of historical thrillers and Tudor-era historical fiction. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Crown as a host for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. 

Tour Schedule:
Follow the tour on Twitter at the following hashtag: #TheCrownVirtualBookTour
Nancy Bilyeau's website:
Nancy Bilyeau on Twitter: @TudorScribe


As part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for The Crown, I'm delighted to host a giveaway for one copy of this fabulous book.

Contest details:

- Open to residents of the United States only

- To enter, please leave a comment with your name and email address (only comments with email addresses will be entered)

- The contest will be open until midnight on February 3rd