I have found a new favorite author. Nancy Bilyeau has written two superb historical thrillers set during the reign of Henry VIII. I love historical fiction, and I also love great historical fiction that takes me to the world of the past and includes a thrilling mystery. What is also unique about these novels are that they are centered on a young Dominican novice, Joanna Stafford, during the time of the dissolution of the abbeys and monasteries in Tudor England.
Joanna Stafford is from a noble family, but her Uncle the Duke of Buckingham was executed for treason, and her family has fallen on hard times. As a promise to a dying Queen Katherine of Aragon, Joanna becomes a novice at the Dominican priory in Dartford. She leaves her priory without permission when she discovers that her beloved cousin Margaret is about to be executed at Smithfield for treason during the Pilgrimage of Grace (a period in time when people in Northern England rebelled against King Henry as they wanted to keep their Catholic faith. Henry did not take too kindly to this). Things do not go well for Joanna on her journey. She is saved from ruffians by a young constable named Geoffrey Scovill. Joanna’s father has also made the journey to Smithfield to try to provide a last act of mercy for Margaret. Joanna and her father are thrown in the Tower of London. The only way to escape and save her father is to go on a secret mission for the Bishop of Winchester along with Friar Edmond and Friar Richard. She is to return to the priory and search for the mythical crown of Athelstan. Upon her return, Joanna discovers that there is much more to the mission than she could have possibly known. Will Joanna succeed in her mission and free her father?
The Chalice has a riveting opening. Joanna (along with various monks) is waiting outside the Canterbury Cathedral to fight King Henry’s soldiers that are stealing St. Thomas Beckets bones in order to destroy them. The religious community has seen their abbeys and monasteries dissolved, but this treatment of sacred relics was more than they can stand.
The novel then flashes back to the events that led up to this. Joanna Stafford has joined the likes of religious sisters and brothers across England at the dissolution of her priory. Never officially a nun, and now pensioned off, she is viewed with suspicion by townspeople and has to determine the route best to go on with her life. This route includes finding love, but the path of love does not flow smoothly. In the aftermath, Joanna visits cousins in London and again finds herself swept up into a conspiracy beyond her control. She must fulfill a prophecy to destroy Henry VIII to bring Catholicism back to England, but she also wants to protect her country from foreign invasion. Torn by these two conflicting ideologies, Joanna takes her destiny in her own hands.
I loved these books and read them very quickly. I was obsessed with them and read them at every opportunity. I was dismayed with The Chalice ended, but was happy to learn that Nancy Bilyeau has a contract with Touchstone for Book 3. It will be called The Covenant and will be out by the end of 2014. I can’t wait!
I loved these books for many reasons. The first was because they were a great suspenseful tale that kept me wondering what would happen next at every turn. I would finish one chapter and have to read the next. It was fascinating. Another intriguing element was the fact that it was told from the prospective of a novice during the dissolution. I have never read a novel of the Tudor period told from this view point before and it was very unique. I enjoyed reading about characters I’ve read about before in history through the eyes of Joanna Stafford. Joanna herself was one of my main reasons for loving these books. She was a strong heroine that was able to use her wits to help her and those she loved through perilous times. She is also a beautiful woman, who does not know it. This leads to a tragic romance, which I don’t want to talk about in order to not ruin it for people (although I am dying to talk to someone about it!). Joanna’s fellow sisters, Friar Edmond, Geoffrey Scovill, and others are all vividly sketched and brought to life in perfect detail.
Overall, The Crown and The Chalice are not to be missed. I highly recommend them and will be also recommending them to several of my friends and family members that I know will enjoy them.
I reviewed both The Crown and The Chalice as part of the TLC Book Tours. I have been having technical difficulties with Blogger on editing my posts (has anyone else been having this issue) and adding in links. The link for TLC book reviews is: http://tlcbooktours.com/ For further stops on the book store check-out this scheduled:
Monday, July 15th: Royal Reviews
Wednesday, July 17th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, July 18th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Friday, July 19th: Col Reads
Monday, July 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, July 24th: Lit and Life
Thursday, July 25th: Book Addict Katie
Monday, July 29th: Scandalous Women
Tuesday, July 30th: Laura's Reviews
Tuesday, July 30th: Fiction Addict
Wednesday, July 31st: Booktalk & More
Thursday, August 1st: Bookish Whimsy
Monday, August 5th: Read Lately
Wednesday, August 7th: A Library of My Own
Thursday, August 8th: Literally Jen
Friday, August 9th: A Reader of Fictions
Monday, August 12th: Books Without Any Pictures