Today is my stop on the TLC Book Tour for The Chalice, a historical thriller by Nancy Bilyeau. The Chalice is the sequel to The Crown. Although the two books have separate story arcs and can probably be read independently, this review will contain some spoilers from the previous book.
Joanna Stafford was a Dominican novice up until the dissolution of her convent by Henry VIII. Now, she is trying to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. Joanna is fiercely independent and doesn’t want to be controlled by the court or her relatives. Her dream is to buy a loom and weave tapestries in the small town of Dartford. She’s also developed feelings for two very different men–Edmund, a former monk, and Geoffrey, the constable.
However, Joanna’s life can never be that simple. As a teenager, her mother took her to visit Sister Elizabeth Barton, whose eerie prophecy points Joanna on a dark path. It leads her to once again become involved in espionage, this time in order to ensure that Mary will one day take the throne.
Bilyeau explores the conflict between state and religion at a time when the two were inextricably intertwined. Joanna finds herself hating what Henry VIII has done to English Catholocism. At the same time, there are plots overseas calling for an invasion. As much as Joanna disagrees with what Henry is doing, she doesn’t want her country to be decimated by war and then divided between the great European powers.
One of the central themes of the book is Joanna’s internal struggle with the idea of violence. Henry VIII is attacking her religion and has destroyed her entire way of life. At the same time, those who seek Joanna’s help opposing him aren’t above using lies and murder to get what they want. Joanna must decide whether the ends justify the means and how to stand up for her beliefs without simultaneously compromising them.
Bilyeau plans to write a full series involving Joanna’s adventures. She makes a strong protagonist, and I’m excited to see what she’ll become involved in next! There are still some loose ends that haven’t been resolved (*cough* love triangle *cough*), and Joanna’s position among the minor nobility but removal from it puts her in the perfect position to explore Tudor intrigue.