Aaron's Reviews > The Crown

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau
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Apr 19, 12

Read in April, 2012

This incredible first novel brings readers to the months surrounding the birth of King Henry VIII son Edward. Readers are quickly drawn into the tale of Sister Joanna Stafford, the daughter of a fallen English house and a lady-in-waiting to deposed Queen Katherine of Aragon. In fact, Joanna had also served in that capacity in the final days of the Queen's life.

It is that service that led her to a life as a Dominican novice at the Priory of Dartford, an ancient structure that had been set up by King Edward IV many decades previous. Joanna finds herself sneaking out of the priory at the beginning of the novel to attend the execution (burning at the stake) of her beloved cousin, who is accused of treason against the King for her stance on his attacks on Catholic Church properties to despoil them of their riches and land.

It is during the execution and her father's attempt to bring about a quick end to her cousin that the worst happens. She and her father are arrested and held in the Tower of London for treason. While there, she is brought under the influence of Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester. He uses the imprisonment of her father to force her to help him in a search. He believes that her priory holds an ancient relic: one crown worn by the Saxon King Athelstan with a mystic past that is rumored to bring strength and success to worthy leaders and death to those less deserving. The crown also has ties to the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted, and Prince Arthur, Queen Katherine's first husband Arthur. Joanna is sent back to her priory with orders for the prioress to take her and two monks into the order to search for the crown in secret.

This is just the start of an investigation that will include murder, political intrigue, rape, and a nation torn apart by the Catholic/Protestant dispute at the core of the Reformation. Fans of Philippa Gregory will be intrigued and not want to put this one down. It is like one of her novels mixed with the Ellis Peters' Brother Cadafael series. I would love to read more about Joanna's story!

It is clear that Bilyeau, a magazine editor, has done her share of research. The novel concludes with a list of strong resources. My only regret is a lack of an Author's Note that would talk more about the real people, places, and events that are woven throughout the tale and what liberties she might have taken with history as part of the drama she created! That doesn't detract from how great the story was, though!
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