Friday, March 02, 2012

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

When a young novice nun sneaks out of her convent to go to London she sets off a change of events that she couldn't even begin to imagine. Sister Joanne Stafford is a member of the aristocratic, once mighty, Stafford family. Her cousin has been implicated in treason and has therefore been sentenced to burn. Joanne is determined that her beloved cousin will not die alone. Once she reaches London, she is caught up in a rough crowd and is only saved when a young constable named Geoffrey Scovill steps in.

Once her identity is revealed, she find herself in the custody of the king, housed in the foreboding grounds of the Tower. After a prolonged stay, she is given a way out by no lesser figure of Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester - she must find the holy relic, the crown of Athelstan and let him know where it is. In the process, she might just be able to ensure that Dartford convent is not closed during the reformation. She is released from custody and sent back to Dartford convent in the company of two Brothers - Edmund and Richard.

As Joanna searches the priory for clues as to the location of the crown, the clues seem to be even more confusing. Confusion gives why to fear though when there is a murder at the Priory. There are secrets everywhere, even within the priory. Sister Joanna must unravel them all, even knowing that if she does unravel the biggest secret of all, there may be tragic consequences.

In order to find out more about the elusive relic, Joanna finds herself travelling from the priory to other religious institutions, to the homes of family and interacting with people from the world that she had left behind when she acted upon her religious vocation.

For the most part, this book was an entertaining read. There were a few times when the pacing was a bit uneven, but Joanna and her accomplices are interesting enough to overlook that most of the time. I did wonder if we were heading into love triangle territory for a little while when Geoffrey kept on appearing in the most unlikely of places, but in the end any romantic undertones were very subtle, and the characters acted appropriately.

The author has said that she is working on the next book to feature Sister Joanna and I have to say that the ending left the direction of the next book quite open, so I will be reading along to see what happens next.

When I got the first pitch to read this book, one of the blurbs compared this book to both Dan Brown and Philippa Gregory and when you added in the fact that I am, in fact, pretty much Tudored out, and I wasn't all that fussed about it! When I read the pitch again the second time I received one, I decided to give it ago and I am glad that I did.

Whilst this novel is set firmly within the Tudor reign of Henry VIII, it is different from so many of the other Tudor novels out there. Our main character, Sister Joanne Stafford, is from the aristocratic Stafford family, and yes, Henry, Katherine of Aragorn, Princess Mary and several other famous names are found in the pages of the book. In many other books with this setting, the big issues like the reformation of the monasteries form part of the story of Henry and his family, whereas in this book it is the reformation and the people that are affected directly by it that take centre stage and Henry and co are the sideshow. It is a refreshing point of difference!

Rating 4/5

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.

This book is one of my reads for the Historical Fiction Challenge and is cross-posted from Historical Tapestry.

We are also giving away a copy of the book. To find out the giveaway details head over to Historical Tapestry!


  1. A book about those directly affected seems so rare, with everything talking about them rather than being from their true point of view. Good to hear this one breaks the mould!

    1. It was definitely a nice change Charlie. I am glad I took the chance despite being all Tudored out.

  2. I am glad that you liked this one, and I agree that although the focus on Geoffrey was confusing at first, I am happy that the book veered away from romance, because I don't think it would have worked with the angle that Joanna was a nun. Exceptional review today! I am eager to see what will happen in the next book!

  3. I've been eye-balling this one ever since I first saw that gorgeous cover - now it's going on the to-read list!

  4. I've been wanting to read this one ever since I read Heather's review (Zibilee). Now after reading yours too, I definitely want to get a copy!

    1. Stacy, I'm giving away a copy of The Crown on my blog. It ends tomorrow night.

    2. There is a giveaway at Historical Tapestry as well. Click on the link at the bottom of this post for the details.

  5. I enjoyed this one too. Incorporation of Tudor characters without too much Tudor overkill. Plus, an intriguing mystery along with excellent historical prose. Bilyeau is a great new voice in historical fiction.



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