I received a copy of Nancy Bilyeau’s “The Crown” as part of the TLC Book Tour for its sequel, “The Chalice.” My post for “The Chalice” is scheduled for mid-August, but I wanted to read and review “The Crown” first to become familiar with the characters and story.
“The Crown” is a historical thriller set in Tudor England. The protagonist, a young Dominican novice named Joanna Stafford, sneaks away from her convent to attend her cousin’s execution. Her trip doesn’t go quite as planned, and she and her father are captured and sent to the Tower of London. The Bishop of Winchester releases Joanna, but on one condition–she is to be his spy, and to locate the whereabouts of the Athelstan Crown, which he believes to be hidden in her convent. Her father is still held in the Tower, and will not be released unless Joanna is successful in her mission. Can she betray the sisters and the convent that she calls home?
When I was a teenager, I used to be obsessed with historical fiction set in the Tudor era, and read everything that I could get my hands on. This book is a throwback to that time of my life, and it was highly enjoyable. It’s a different point of view than most of what I’ve read, as the bulk of the action and intrigue takes place away from Henry VIII’s court. There’s also an element of mystery and treasure hunting. It’s what would happen if you mix Phillipa Gregory with Dan Brown.
I loved that the main character is a nun. Nancy Bilyeau explores the dynamic between the different sisters and the community that they form. It’s an unusual setting for Tudor fiction, and it’s absolutely perfect. Joanna feels at peace at Dartford, and likes it far better than she had serving at Queen Mary’s court. The fact that she has experienced both shapes her character. Joanna is level-headed and determined, and completely aware of the way that the world works. At the same time, she’s very human. We see her struggle with her conscience and with her faith, especially when she learns about some of the abuses that are going on within the Catholic Church–for example, many of the convents and monasteries have been faking relics in order to generate income from unwitting pilgrims, and the Bishop of Winchester, who should be an upstanding leader, is torturing her father to force her obedience. It’s an interesting perspective, especially against the backdrop of the Reformation.
Despite the fact that Joanna is a novice at a convent, the book plants the seeds for a love triangle in the sequel. I’m curious to see how it will go, as right now it’s kind of in the background, and for most of the book Joanna doesn’t entertain any notion of ever having a romantic relationship. I’m generally not a fan of love triangles, but I’m hoping that it will be tastefully done and that Joanna will choose the path that’s right for her.
“The Crown” had me sitting on the edge of my seat dying to know what would happen next. It is a fast-paced tale of murder and intrigue set against the turmoil of the Reformation, and I look forward to reading the sequel.