The Crown – Nancy Bilyeau

Published August 10, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

When novice nun Joanna Stafford learns her rebel cousin is condemned by King Henry VIII to be burned at the stake, she makes the decision to break the sacred rule of enclosure and run away from her Dominican Order in Dartford to stand at her cousin’s side.

Arrested for interfering with king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, Sir Richard Stafford, is sent to the Tower of London. Joanna’s father is brutally tortured by Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester who leads the Catholic faction bent on saving England’s monasteries from destruction. In order to save her father, Joanna must submit to Gardiner’s will and become a pawn in the struggle between religious extremes. Gardiner forces Joanna to return to Dartford Priory with a mission: find the long hidden crown worn by Saxon King Athelstan in AD 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain. Gardiner believes the crown itself to possess a mystical power that will halt the Reformation.

Uncovering only dark betrayals and murder at Dartford, Joanna flees with Brother Edmund, a troubled young friar, and with time running out, their hunt for the crown leads them through royal castles, to Stonehenge, and finally to the tomb of the mysterious King Athelstan under Malmesbury Abbey. There Joanna learns the true secret of the crown, a secret tracing all the way back to Golgotha and the Relics of the Passion. Now, as Cromwell’s army of destruction advances, Joanna must finally determine who to trust and how far she is willing to go to protect a way of life that she passionately loves.

What did I think?:

I’m a big fan of historical fiction, so I was excited to read this debut novel set in the Tudor period (another favourite for me) and the first in a series about a young novice nun called Joanna Stafford. It started off promisingly enough and I warmed to the character of Joanna as she was imprisoned in the Tower of London for attending her cousin’s execution. This particular period of time was fraught with suspicion and paranoia, especially on the part of Henry VIII as he fought to maintain his right to the throne, so obviously there were other incriminatory circumstances and dubious family connections that led to her capture and incarceration. This was probably my preferred part of the novel – it was fast-paced, quite exciting, and well written, and I felt the character of Joanna both endearing and intriguing.

Then Joanna is released and returned to the priory with a secret mission from Bishop Gardiner, to uncover information on a crown centuries old that  may have the power to prevent Cromwell’s religious reformations which threaten Joanna’s beloved Abbey. Joanna is also threatened with her father’s life who is also under suspicion and imprisoned in the Tower, which gives her the impetus and motive to succeed. Unfortunately, this is where I had the greatest problem with the novel, it was just a little bit too “Dan Brown” racing after clues, for my liking, and although it is an intriguing premise for a story, something didn’t fit right in my opinion, and in points it became a little too implausible. I did appreciate the amount of research that the author has done on this particular period of history, and enjoyed the historical references.  To be honest, I probably won’t continue with the series, as I’m not certain now where the story could go, but if you like the sound of a religious historical mystery, you may not be disappointed.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):


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