Monday, July 22, 2013

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

Hi, all! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Nancy Bilyeau's latest, but I wanted to quickly cover her debut, The Crown, first. (The Chalice is up next.)

When Joanna Stafford hears that her cousin is to be burned at the stake for protesting King Henry VIII's position with regards to the Catholic church, she abandons her position with the Dartford Priory to be at her side. Joanna is a devoted novice on her way to becoming a nun but the call of a family member in distress is more than she can bear. The seriousness of Margaret's crime means that no one in the family is likely to be present at her death but she and Joanna shared a special bond. Joanna is mistaken, though. There is someone else in the family there to give support to Margaret: Joanna's own father. The two are soon arrested and imprisoned at the Tower of London for interfering with Margaret's punishment, leaving Joanna in a desperate position. She is offered the chance of release and a return to Dartford only if she will agree to serve as eyes inside the priory for the Bishop of Winchester, a man whose motives and reliability are questionable. The Bishop wants something, something rumored to be hidden within the walls of the Dartford Priory, and if Joanna can find this item she may be able to free her father. If she fails, it could mean the end of the Priory as well as her father's life.

The Crown is a truly captivating literary thriller and puzzle set during the English Reformation and based in very real history. Joanna is completely fictional, but Bilyeau moves her around this history with a mastery that's admirable for a debut author.

It is clear in reading The Crown that Bilyeau has paid very close attention to historic detail and it's this detail - paired with an undeniably appealing heroine and a great plot - that makes the book a stand out both in terms of historical fiction and in terms of thrillers.

This is the kind of book that sends me immediately searching Wikipedia and other online history links to find out just how much of the story is based in fact and I discovered that in this case it's surprisingly quite a lot! While Joanna is fiction, the Staffords are very real - my grandmother was a big Tudor history buff but I know surprisingly little about this particular family even though my grandfather shared their family name (you'd have to trace back pretty far to find a connection, I'm sure). Athelstan is real though his crown is still rumor :) and many of the characters in the book are actual historical figures in Henry VIII's court. Even Dartford Priory and its history is real, though not necessarily the part about the crown. Bilyeau discusses some of these things in the Q&A in the paperback edition of the book and on her blog.

While The Crown is the first in the trilogy, and the introduction to Joanna, I should point out that you do not have to have read the book before diving into the follow up The Chalice, but reading the two books back to back has been particularly enjoyable for me and I definitely recommend it.

Rating: 5/5


Jen | Book Den said...

Awesome. I've been in the mood to read something like The Da Vinci Code lately. This sounds exactly like what I was looking for. Thanks! :)

Becky LeJeune said...

Definitely, Jennifer! They call it "The Da Vinci Code meets The Other Boleyn Girl" and it's totally appropriate!