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.
Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel is a true gift for any fan of historical fiction. A beautiful mixture of history, mysticism and faith, The Crown goes beyond the abhorrent life of King Henry III, and sets its focus on the quest to save Roman Catholicism during his reign. Believed to be a relic with impossible power, the Athelstan Crown becomes the ultimate prize for many. Purported to bestow invincibility upon anyone who is of royal blood and pure heart, and death to anyone who is not, the race to find the Crown is on.
Joanna Stafford is a lovely protagonist, and her need to find the Crown on behalf of Bishop Gardiner is rooted in her need to save her father from the London Tower. Joanna is marvelously intelligent and often surprises herself with her unwavering faith and her inner strength. You’ll root for Joanna right from the start, even if you question the intentions of the Bishop’s errand. Joanna soon meets Brother Richard and Brother Edmund, and together, the three take the reader on a thrilling ride through a dark turning point in England’s history.
This novel is beautifully written, and the characters are developed so well that you’ll feel like you’ve known them for years. I particularly enjoyed the dialogue; it was evident throughout that Ms. Bilyeau deliberated over every word. She did a remarkable job giving the reader all necessary details of the past while successfully propelling the plot with terrific speed. Dark characters gave a chill and pristine characters inspired. Everything you need for a true historical page burner is offered.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the symbolism that Bilyeau included, which was masterful. Her inclusion of the tapestries with their hidden meanings, and the descriptions of the mysterious ancient relics were all fascinating. Clues were peppered throughout the book, but they were carefully dispersed, and many times cleverly disguised. And in the midst of the religious symbols and the spellbinding stories that accompanied them were three very human characters, whose devotion to the cause (and to one another) was enthralling.
Who will find the Crown? Are Bishop Gardiner’s motives pure? Will Cromwell discover their quest to stop the destruction of England’s monasteries and priories? What role did Queen Katherine play? What memory from the Tudor Court haunts Sister Joanna’s memory?
You won’t find any answers here. I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.
When I finished the novel, I thought sadly to myself that I would miss Joanna Stafford very much. But after a little visit to Nancy Bilyeau’s website, I’m thankful to say that the wait won’t be long! Ms. Bilyeau’s sequel to The Crown, The Chalice, will go on sale in the U.K. on February 28, 2013. We’ll have to be a little patient over here, however, as it won’t be available in North America until March 5th.
Hoarders hate waiting.
This audiobook was read by one of my all-time favorite narrators, Nicola Barber. I’m now more convinced than ever that Nicola can do anything. Once again, if you’re faced with the choice of book or audiobook, please take my advice and allow Ms. Barber to read this novel to you. She’s just as delightful as ever, and hands down is one of the most talented voices in the business. Her inflections are perfect and her tones are musical. Pretty sure that if she decided to read the phone book, I’d listen. Yes, she’s that good.
4 stars for The Crown.