WellI am joining in the chorus to sing the praises of, The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau. It is in my opinion a first rate historical mystery as well as a wonderful historical fiction novel. Now those who know me know I rarely read anything that is remotely connected with the Tudor era, it has been done to death. But several friends said: It is good! I know youll like it! As I trust their taste, I thought why not?
Sister Joanna Stafford second cousin to King Henry VIII is a novice at the Priory of Dartford. She has run away from the Priory, to London, to be present at her Cousin Margarets execution by burning. Margaret has been convicted as rebel, for her part in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Joannas motivation is one of honest compassion, so that her cousin and her dearest friend should not die alone. She is unprepared for what she sees at the execution and in a resulting scuffle she is arrested and taken to the tower. The Staffords are the family, of the disgraced and also executed, second Duke of Buckingham. A family that has a claim to the throne, that is equal, if not better than that of the Tudors. She thinks she can explain the reasons she is there and will be released, to go back to the priory and take her punishment and resume her calling to become a nun.
But powerful, dangerous forces are at work, the Dissolution of the Monasteries has begun. Sister Joanna has become the perfect pawn in the power struggle between the Kings counselors. And there is something a powerful relic, the crown of Athelstan that many want, and Joanna is the corrupt Bishop Gardiners best hope of obtaining it for his purposes. She agrees to look for it, not for herself but for anothers whose life depends on it.
This is an excellent mystery, and it deals very well with the fear the permeated people of the Catholic faith, and the pain of watching their religion slowly disappearing. How much more so for those who have chosen to serve God and their faith. Life in a cloister during these uncertain times was difficult. I was swept up in this well written and well researched novel. I was up all night reading this. Ms Bilyeau is absolutely on my writer to watch list, and I am excited to see what is next. 5 Stars
Thanks to Net Galley for my review copy.
Sister Joanna Stafford thought she was only going to go be by her cousin's side as she was being executed. She never imagined she would become embroiled in a cat and mouse chase to find the Athelstan crown that is reported to be hidden in her abbey. Having chosen to live the religious life, she never wanted to be part of the deceitful world of the Tudor court. Having no choice but to do what Bishop Gardiner tasks her to do, Joanna heads back to Dartford with her fellow friars to began her search. Each are given a secret task that they must do but in order to free her father, Joanna must discover what the friars are also hiding.
Joanna's character is unique in that even though she wants to lead the religious life, she also wants to know the truth and knows that not all things can be the work of the Lord. She is very intelligent and able to piece all the clues together. The back story of King Athelstan and history of the crown adds to an unique aspect to the Tudor thriller.
A few things that for me didn't work was the forced romance that was scattered throughout. I felt it didn't really add anything unless Bilyeau would have expanded a bit more. The ending also left me wondering what the future holds for Joanna and her sister nuns...it just kind of ended.
But besides that, I enjoyed Bilyeau's writing. She made you feel that you were riding on that cart, heading towards Smithfield and feeling that trepidation knowing that you will see your cousin execution. The descriptions were vivid and you can tell that there was a lot of research put into this book. Great for anyone that loves Tudor era historical fiction.
Margaret Bulmer is to be burned alive as she has been identified by King Henry VIII as a traitor. She and her northern friends support the traditional church which Henry is disposing of throughout his reign. Joanna Stafford, her cousin, who has been a novice studying to be a nun leaves Dartford priory against her vows to support her cousin. Her father, too, is there and as the flames rise rushes to hurl an explosive to put a quick end to their kinsman. Joanna struggles to get to him. Both are arrested and taken to the tower.
Suffering for months, Joanna makes a pact with Bishop Stephen Gardiner, in order to save her father. She is to locate the Athelstan crown which is believed to be hidden at the Dartford priory. It is rumored to have great powers and Gardiner longs to obtain it "to save the old religious center" he tells Joanna. The plot thickens as Joanna searches in vain. Relationships among men and women, fathers and daughters, and politicians swirl around Joanna as she tries to save her father. Will she ever locate the crown?
The story is complex and well written. I enjoyed the strong intelligent and willful Joanna. She is the center of the novel and an admirable character. While the ending is a bit predictable in other ways it is not. Nevertheless, this is a good, good read and a wonderful first attempt by this young author.