Release Date: 10th January 2012
Book Source: Touchstone & NetGalley
Synopsis: 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.
What an impressive debut novel and being a die-hard Tudor fan I never seem to tire of reading more, more, more 'Tudor'. The Crown is set during the Dissolution of the Monasteries but rather than focus on Henry VIII and his court, it's brought to us from the less travelled perspective of a Dominican novice. History interwoven with artistic embellishment, an undercurrent of suspense and a page-turning pace; a combination I loved!
I won't go in to plot detail as the synopsis more than does that but Nancy Bilyeau does a wonderful job adhering to historical detail while introducing fictional characters that the reader can connect with. Novice Joanna Stafford, from the 'actual' out-of-favour Stafford family is devout if slightly unconventional, courageous and resourceful.
Joanna, Geoffrey Scovill constable for Rochester, and the friar Brother Edmund were easy characters to like and they effortlessly carried the story. However, the devious Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester cannot be afforded the same likeability ;)
The story didn't drag at all for me, when the pace slowed I was fascinated with the intricate workings of Dartford Priory, its famous tapestries and apothecary particulars and as Joanna uncovers information regarding King Athelstan, the Athelstan Crown and other relics from the Passion of Christ I was equally as enthralled. There is nothing I enjoy more than a history lesson that inspires me to do a little research of my own, delving further into the history of the period.
Copper engraved print published in Francis Grose's Antiquities of England and Wales, 1786
The tomb of King Athelstan in Malmesbury Abbey
picture source: Wikipedia
I'm not sure about the plausibility of Joanna creeping around the Tower of London or whether the sub-plot involving the foul Lord Chester was necessary but neither of these scenarios detracted from my enjoyment. The Crown is a multi-layered mystery and I was more than happy to be immersed once again in the political intrigue, religious upheaval, and subterfuge of Tudor England.
Nancy Bilyeau's next book, The Chalice continue's Joanna Stafford's story and I for one can't wait!
Want to know more about this talented debut novelist? ~ visit her website