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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Crown








Summary:
Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the 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.

While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story set in Tudor England 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.

Review:
One day at the library, I was discussing with a well-read patron my need for a new historical fiction writer, as I had exhausted many of the works of my favorites. She suggested Nancy Bilyeau, an author whose name I had heard mentioned in various historical fiction circles. I searched within the libraries catalog and was pleasantly surprised we carried the very book the patron had stated was the one that got her hooked on the author. I immediately went to the stacks, pulled the book, and began to devour it on my lunch break, and might I say:  Who knew the lives of nuns and monks could be so exciting?
After reading, “The Crown”, Nancy Bilyeau’s first installment in the Joanna Stafford series, my assessment of the men and women of the cloth has gone from one of meek and mild-mannered devotees to that of cunning and intelligent sleuths doing all they can to protect their home, faith, and way of life. The story begins with Joanna Stafford, a young and na├»ve member of the fallen royal Stafford house recently turned novice Dominican nun, wandering unaccompanied through London’s Cheapside. King Henry VIII has announced that there is to be a traitor burned at the stake, and Joanna is desperately searching for its location to confirm her worst fear—that the intended burn victim was to be her beloved cousin Margaret.
Margaret, like many devout Catholics at the time, was angered and enraged by King Henry’s nonchalant casting off of the old ways in favor of the new religious separation from Rome. This separation was brought about by Henry’s anger over not being granted an official divorce by the Pope, allowing him to marry his Boleyn mistress. All who opposed him by standing up for their religious beliefs were labeled traitors and effectively dealt with as such. Margaret was no exception. Accused of leading an uprising, or rather not talking her husband out of a revolt, she is sentenced to death by burning. Catching wind of King Henry’s intentions for her cousin, Joanna sneaks out of Dartford Priory to try to convince those in charge that her cousin should be spared. That is when her trouble begins.
After attempting to be near her cousin in her finals moments of life, Joanna is accused of trying to help Margaret escape, and finds herself locked in the Tower of London. While held captive, she has a chance run in with treacherous and deceitful Bishop Gardiner, who bribes her to join his search for the infamously cursed Athelstan Crown. This sets Joanna off on a path of mystery and intrigue, leading her to not only question the church, but her own faith as well. With a new obstacle around every corner, Joanna finds herself in some not-so-nun-like situations, relying on her wit and instincts to pull her through, while all along attempting to preserve her commitment to not only her family, but the fold as well. With the amount of excitement and deceit that unfolds along her path, it is easy for the reader to forget they are reading about nuns, monks and priests.
As a self-proclaimed historical fiction junkie, I must say I am rather impressed with Nancy Bilyeau’s novel, “The Crown”. While it is not a easy to devour as a Philippa Gregory novel, (I am a little bias, as Ms. Gregory is my favorite author of all time) it is closely comparable and is chalked full of good, down and dirty Tudor suspense, stratagem, and huggermugger. I would highly suggest this as a good place to venture once you have exhausted the entire Gregory catalog. I give this book 4 stars overall and 5 stars for the mysterious plot line. I look forward to reading another of her works soon!



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