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It was a time of fear. It was a time of prophecy. It was a time for one woman to show a courage she never knew she had...
Winner of the Best Historical Mystery Award from the RT Reviews, 'The Chalice' is a thriller told from the point of view of a young woman caught in the crosswinds of time: She has pledged to become a Dominican nun in an England ruled by Henry VIII, who has ruthlessly smashed his country's allegiance to Rome. By 1538, the bloody power struggles between crown and cross threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last. The life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies. As she struggles to forge a life for herself in a country that rejects her faith, she must also decide if her future should be shared with a man--and if so, which of the two men who love her should be chosen.

496 pages, Hardcover

First published March 5, 2013

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About the author

Nancy Bilyeau

12 books835 followers
If you tell Nancy Bilyeau that reading one of her historical novels of suspense is like strapping yourself into a time machine, you'll make her a happy woman. She loves crafting immersive historical stories, whether it's Jazz Age New York City in "The Orchid Hour," the 18th-century European porcelain workshops and art galleries in "The Blue" or "The Fugitive Colours," or Henry VIII's tumultuous England in "The Crown," "The Chalice," and "The Tapestry."

A magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of "Rolling Stone" and "Entertainment Weekly," Nancy drew on her journalism experience to research "The Orchid Hour," which includes real-life figures such as Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, and Lous Buchalter. While working as deputy editor of the nonprofit Center on Media, Crime and Justice in New York City, Nancy covered organized crime as well as cybercrime and terrorism.

For her Genevieve Planche novels--"The Blue" and "The Fugitive Colours"--she drew on her own heritage to create her Huguenot heroine. Nancy is a descendant of Pierre Billiou, a French Huguenot who immigrated to what was then New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1661. Pierre's stone house still stands and is the third oldest house in New York State.

Nancy's mind is usually in past centuries, but she lives with her family in upstate New York.

Visit Nancy's website at www.nancybilyeau.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 272 reviews
Profile Image for Jenny Q.
1,001 reviews54 followers
March 27, 2014
4.5 Stars. Having really enjoyed Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel The Crown, I couldn't wait to see what was next for former novice-turned-spy Joanna Stafford. When The Chalice begins, Joanna is struggling a bit in transitioning into secular life now that the monasteries and priories have been dissolved and Henry VIII has effectively eliminated the role of the Catholic church. She's determined to build a life in the village of Dartford, close to her beloved priory, and close to the two men in her life who have become more than friends, constable Geoffrey Scovill and former friar Edmund Sommerville. But Joanna is of noble birth, niece to the executed Duke of Buckingham, cousin to the Duchess of Norfolk, and cousin to the Marquess and Marchioness of Exeter, and her family arrives unexpectedly, asking her to come back and take her place in the world she was born to.

Though they promise her she won't have to return to the dreaded court she despises, they have ulterior motives in bringing Joanna back into their world. Thanks to her service to Katherine of Aragon, her mother's Spanish heritage, her friendship with the Lady Mary Tudor, and her own devout Catholic faith, she's the perfect pawn in a plot to save Christendom from the whims of a tyrannical king. Struggling to adapt to her new lifestyle and her status in society and her interactions with the nobles of the realm, Joanna is drawn into a dangerous game involving international spies, necromancers and seers, and the political maneuverings of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as Henry VIII prepares to welcome his fourth bride, Anne of Cleves. Torn between her duty to God and to family, and to a king whose destructive policies have upended her life, Joanna is forced to play her part and see the treasonous plan through to its conclusion to protect her loved ones, even if it means her death.

Just about the only drawback for me in The Crown was the pacing and some slow periods that had me skimming forward to the action, but The Chalice suffers from no such ailment! It's nonstop from beginning to end, with one plot twist after another, and I could not put it down. Nancy Bilyeau has meticulously researched the time period and it comes to life in her hands as she weaves Joanna in and out of the factions of Henry VIII's court, where intrigues, plots, and suspicions abound, where fortunes can change at the drop of an ax, and where no one is safe from the ambitions of those closest to a changeable king. The Chalice is superbly written; Nancy Bilyeau's style is effortless and she has a talent for crafting sophisticated, intellectual, and exciting historical thrillers.

There's no doubt Joanna Stafford is one of the more memorable and interesting characters I've come across in Tudor fiction, and while she was given the freedom to really grow and come into her own in this story, I didn't always agree with the decisions she made. Sometimes I wished I could reach through the pages and shake some sense into Joanna, but she was always true to herself and what she believed in, and I can appreciate a character's ability to make me care so much that I get angry with her when she doesn't do what I want her to do! At the end of The Crown I lamented the state of Joanna's love life, and I'm still lamenting it at the end of The Chalice, though not for lack of development and some really emotional turns of events. Poor Joanna. Is everything ever just going to fall into place for her so she can live a normal life? I'm hoping we'll find out in the next book in the series. Joanna has made some powerful enemies, but she has also made some interesting friendships, and I have a feeling her relationship with poor little Catherine Howard will be taking center stage very soon. This series is a must-read not only for Tudor fans but for all fans of top-notch historical fiction.
Profile Image for Historical Fiction.
920 reviews589 followers
April 3, 2013
Find the enhanced version of this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

I admit it has been a while since I picked up a Tudor novel. It is such a popular period and there has been such a slew of new titles in the last few years that I suffered a little bit of burn out. This being the case, you can probably understand my initial trepidation at taking on Nancy Bilyeau's The Chalice.

Having finished the book I look back at laugh at my skepticism. Bilyeau's writing is wonderful not to mention addicting. She strikes the perfect balance between fact and fiction, never over burdening the narrative with dreary monologues or allowing the plot to diverge too far from historic events.

Now as far as protagonists go, you'd be hard pressed to find one comparable to Joanna Stafford. She is intelligent without coming off arrogant and kind without coming off saintly. She is incredibly dynamic, a personality I wanted to read about and at the end of the day a reader can't ask for more than that.

Unfortunately I can't say how this its piece compared to its predecessor as I've yet to read The Crown, but I will say I appreciated how Bilyeau approached writing a sequel in that she doesn't spend a lot of time rehashing. Written as a standalone, The Chalice can be enjoyed by those with absolutely no knowledge of Bilyeau's work.

The Chalice is an intriguing suspense made all the more fascinating in its focus on those individuals displaced by Henry's Reformation. Refreshingly different from most Tudor pieces, it is a compelling page turner that is sure to satisfy.
Profile Image for Allison.
550 reviews566 followers
February 18, 2017
I've had a hard time categorizing this series. The Crown was nominally a historical mystery, which is why I had picked it up, but ended up being more historical suspense. Now The Chalice drops mystery altogether, focusing instead on a prophecy for Sister Joanna that throws her into danger. So maybe historical suspense is the most appropriate label, at least so far. The fact that it is difficult to categorize is one of the reasons I'm enjoying the series.

The story focuses on a Dominican novice during the time when Henry VIII was dissolving the monasteries and priories and stripping the churches to fill his coffers. Joanna, who took vows to avoid the tumult of politics, has been torn from that peaceful existence and is now trying to make a living in the village near her old priory. A few of the friars and nuns remain together, attempting to continue their observances as well as they can while being reviled by the locals who once came to them for aid and education. They find themselves at the mercy of petty authorities with the weight of King Henry behind them.

This is a great perspective on the time period. It does not deal very directly with the Royals, instead showing how ordinary, loyal papists made their way through the tumultuous changes of the English Reformation. From this angle, it was not a holy enterprise!

At the end of The Crown, I had an idea of where this sequel might be headed. I thought that with the Priory closed and Joanna no longer a novice, she would settle down and find herself a new life - most likely (hopefully!) with Geoffrey. She would maybe run into some new intrigues and mysteries related to his position as a constable. In my experience of historical mystery/fiction with a side of romance, this was the predictable route, and one that I would have been perfectly happy to explore.

I was completely wrong! There was very little about this book that I could have predicted. Although there was part of me wishing for those next steps that I had envisioned, it was refreshing to find myself being led around by the nose without any idea of where it was going to end up. The way that Bilyeau intertwines Joanna's life with actual events of the time, giving this insignificant woman an importance that few people are aware of, is brilliant.

Joanna is once again caught up in politics against her will, dragged into matters beyond her understanding by family ambitions, and tossed about by forces beyond her comprehension. She is confused and changes a lot during the book, betraying her sense of self and struggling with guilt. The prophecy forces her into crises, muddies the waters of right and wrong, and inexorably drags her in a direction she does not want to go. But rather than making the plot predictable, the prophecy plays out with enough twists to bring about a satisfying ending, so that you look back on what happened with new understanding.

Both novels so far have been very well done. I'm looking forward to the next installment but I no longer have any expectations about where it could go next. (I still have hopes for where it might end up eventually.)
Profile Image for Christine Roberts.
279 reviews34 followers
December 20, 2015
The Chalice” by Nancy Bilyeau begins at what we assume is the end, the prologue telling us exactly where protagonist Joanna Stafford will be at the end of this long and arduous journey. I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway, and immediately borrowed “The Crown”, Bilyeau’s first Joanna Stafford novel, from my local library to familiarize myself with the setting and characters. I enjoyed “The Crown”, and was very eagerly anticipating the arrival of my copy of “The Chalice”.

When “The Chalice” begins, Joanna is in a graveyard, preparing to save the bones of a saint from the clutches of King Henry VIII’s guards. This novel is set in the aftermath of Henry’s divorce, subsequent marriages to Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, and his separation from the Catholic Church and the establishment of the Church of England. Henry is on a quest to remove all traces of Catholicism from England, including dissolving priories and monasteries all over the country, and forcing churches to turn over all relics and paint over murals and artwork depicting the saints. Having pledged herself as a novice in the Dominican order, but never actually making the vows to become a nun, Sister Joanna resolves to live by the rules and morals of her order, even though it has been dissolved. She joins together with a group of sisters from her priory, and a brother who had joined their community shortly before its dissolution, and tries to live her life in peace according to her beliefs.

This is Joanna Stafford, though, and anyone who has read “The Crown” knows that trouble tends to come to her, even if she tries her best to avoid it. This time, her troubles arise from a series of prophecies, known only to a select group of people that indicate that Joanna can be the only one to stop Henry VIII’s reign of terror and restore peace and Catholicism to England. Joanna tries her best to avoid both the people that are familiar with the prophecy and the implications of it, but eventually she can no longer avoid her fate. Calling upon all of her strength and faith, Joanna embarks on a journey across many lands, putting herself directly in harm’s way, until she decides to fulfill the prophecy on her own terms.

I enjoyed this book, actually more than “The Crown”, both because of the pacing and the eventual outcome. Joanna Stafford is a realistic heroine, with flaws and doubts just like any normal person, but her unshakeable faith makes her a very strong character. Her group of friends, including Brother Edmund, Sister Winnifred, Geoffrey Scovill, and Arthur, her ward, are well rounded and interesting, and contribute much, both to the story and to the reader’s understanding of Joanna. I call this series “Tudor-adjacent”, because while the reader spends some time with King Henry VII, his wives, children, and courtiers, the main characters circle around the periphery of his world. They are important enough that Joanna being near the King, or associating with his court, is not outside of the realm of possibility, but this is not simply another novel about Henry VIII. All in all, a great read, particularly for fans of the Tudor era and historical fiction in general.

Profile Image for Judith Starkston.
Author 9 books120 followers
November 20, 2013
Bilyeau’s first book, The Crown, brought us the determined but naïve Joanna Stafford, Dominican nun and daughter of a disgraced aristocratic family, during Henry VIII’s reign. In The Chalice Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries has sent a more experienced but no less stubborn Joanna out into the secular world where she’s trying to build a quiet life as a weaver of tapestries. A mysterious prophecy and those who would like to use it to further their power and political desires drag her unwittingly into a bizarre plot against the king and his plans to undermine “the true faith” in England. The most powerful people in England once again tug and pull at Joanna, alternately threatening her life (and those she loves) and courting her as an essential element to their plans. Joanna’s devotion to the Catholic Church and her abhorrence of Henry’s destruction of the cloistered life make her willing to participate to a certain extent—a dangerous vulnerability as it turns out—but she becomes entangled in acts that she never anticipated and that violate her deepest beliefs. Faith, its value, and the willingness of supposedly true believers to exploit faith for their own ends, become intriguing, multi-faceted themes in this book. Bilyeau continues from her first book the subtle, complex development of Joanna’s character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader’s interest on every page. From mystical prophets to court intrigue to the challenges of romance and love amidst those who had once sworn themselves to chastity, The Chalice is writ large across England and the Continent as history and supernatural mysticism combine in this compelling thriller.
136 reviews1 follower
May 19, 2013
I honestly don't understand all the positive reviews for this book. I found the protagonist to be completely unbelievable - the least "nun-y" nun ever (one minute bemoaning the destruction of her beloved religion, the next throwing herself at two different men, the next praying again...come on). In fact, I didn't find any part of the book to be believable, especially not the characters or their motivations. I understand that this is supposed to be more of a historical fantasy than straight historical fiction, but I found it completely implausible and ridiculous. I only finished it because I had to for book club.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,184 reviews49 followers
March 16, 2013
This is one of those books, you know the one? It's the one that very early on you stop for a sec and just sit in awe, marveling at the talent of this author. You can just tell with the flow of the words, with the vivid pictures forming in your mind, that this is going to be one of those books that will stick with you long after you are finished. Not just because of the wonderful story (because this is a WONDERFUL story), but also because of the amount of work you know went into it. The amount of research that had to be done and then writing the story made me realize that this is an author with some serious talent. It's like a jigsaw puzzle, where every piece fits together perfectly with no bent corners, missing or forced pieces. I can picture a huge bulletin board, full of sticky notes of 'who is who' and 'who did what', then with string connecting the notes making sure each sticky note was put in the proper place. With this book all those notes were perfectly positioned, there were no disjointed scenes or out of place story lines. It flowed so nicely that I had a hard time putting it down.

We all know the stories of Henry VIII and his wives, but with The Chalice (set after the death of Queen Jane) this was a story that showed a darker side to Henry VIII's reign, there was suspense, romance, religious, spiritual elements, mystery along with the supernatural stuff, action and so much more packed into this book. Not a small book, close to 500 pages, but worth everyone of them.

The first book in the series The Crown was just as good and I am hoping that there will be a third because I miss Joanna already.

Profile Image for Lisa.
114 reviews36 followers
June 25, 2015
Hugely disappointing. The first book was terrific - engaging, suspenseful, a good mystery in search of the crown. I was hoping for this book to continue in the same vein, another adventure in search of a relic, but it did not. This book centers much more on the romance, court drama, and some rather implausible prophecies involving Joanna - none of which I particularly cared about. Very little actually happens, but it takes a lot of pages to get there. This is definitely a big step down from the first book.
Profile Image for Christina (A Reader of Fictions).
4,230 reviews1,650 followers
August 9, 2013
Having gone straight from The Crown into The Chalice, I'm remarkably impressed by how largely consistent the two books are in quality, and I had a very similar reaction to this installment, which is to say largely positive but lacking that spark that really makes it a me book. In The Chalice, the stakes for Joanna Stafford are raised as it becomes more about her and less about Catholicism in general. Readers who loved The Crown will likely find that they are similarly thrilled by The Chalice.

Perhaps what I enjoy most about this series is its unique perspective on a heavily documented, in both fiction and nonfiction, historical period. We are obsessed with the Tudors, most specifically with King Henry VIII's reign. The drama, the sex, the beheadings, and the betrayals make that period such ripe fodder for entertainment. As such, it's been done to death, except that clever authors can still manage to put a unique spin on well-trodden ground. Rather than focusing on the usual suspects and court life, Bilyeau looks at this turbulent period in English history from the perspective of a novice nun, and puts the shift to Protestantism into sharp, personal relief.

Though not of a religious persuasion myself, the way that Bilyeau confronts these issues is fascinating. The former nuns, friars and monks are lost in this new world, the priories and monasteries having been dissolved at the end of The Crown. Some of the former religious personages manage to establish fairly ordinary lives, marrying and finding professions. Many, though, live together on their pensions, trying to keep life as much as it was before as is possible. Others, desperate, wander the kingdom in search of God and a sign, beaten and battered by the judgmental and fearful. Their world has changed so rapidly, which is all the more upsetting for those who have been cloistered in places of routine and unchanging order.

I still really like Joanna Stafford, but she wasn't quite as level-headed in this one. She waffles back and forth between her two love interests and the possibility of being single. To distract herself from her indecision, she throws herself into absurdly idiotic schemes in the name of her faith without thinking them through. She gets arrested so many times and saved by her connections, thus embroiled into another huge scheme where she's manipulated by other forces, wresting control for herself at the last minute through her badassery. The way that all came out just felt rather contrived. In addition, I wasn't a huge fan of the mysticism angle, though it was an interesting interpretation of King Henry VIII's difficulties fathering children.

Like with The Crown, The Chalice was a bit of a slow start for me, though I did get quite absorbed at certain junctures. The slowness was not aided by the one formatting change Bilyeau made, adding a prologue and epilogue to this installment. I did not much care for these, as they, like most, are intended merely to drum up dramatic irony. The prologue hints that Joanna might die, and then jumps back two months to wind the story forward. I'm not a fan of this narrative device at the best of times, but thought it particularly weak here, since the moment therein isn't even the culmination of the main plot arc, but a minor, stupid plan. The epilogue just felt redundant and out of place, but is, likely, paving the way for book three.

All in all, I'm still quite impressed with this series and do plan to read the third book when it comes out. They're definitely good reads for those who appreciate historical fiction with less of a focus on romance and sex scandals.
Profile Image for The Lit Bitch.
1,248 reviews390 followers
April 15, 2013
This novel is solid. It has a well constructed unique plot with an equally unique heroine. Joanna is a well constructed character, I simply need to know what happens next! I want to know if she finds happiness, love, and if she ever gets to have a nice quiet life in the country with her tapestry loom!

This was an exciting read! The Tudor period is such a stormy and unsettling time in history and what could be a better setting for a religious historic thriller? The time period Bilyeau chose is so rich in history and excitement….you just can never go wrong with the Tudor period when it comes to stories about corruption and treason.

See my full review here
Profile Image for Wanda.
629 reviews
April 4, 2015
4 APR 2015 - this second entry in the series is better than the debut. Sister Joanna is a terrific character. Moving on to #3.
Profile Image for Katharine Ott.
1,730 reviews22 followers
November 1, 2022
"The Chalice" - written by Nancy Bilyeau and published in 2013 by Touchstone, Simon & Schuster. The plot of this historical fiction novel centers around Joanna Stafford, a novice whose religious group has been dissolved by Henry VIII. Her links to a prophesy were told in the first in the series, and the efforts continue to make sure she hears the complete summons. Her royal blood ties are a blessing and a curse, and romantic entanglements complicate things also. I enjoyed the story, lots of intrigue and action, although it wasn't easy to keep up with all the characters, some imagined and many real. Overall, it was a good dose of historical fiction.
Profile Image for Caz.
2,676 reviews1,011 followers
April 9, 2013
This is the second historical novel to feature Joanna Stafford, niece of the Duke of Buckingham and formerly a novice at Dartford Priory. The first was The Crown, in which Joanna was forced into the service of the powerful Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner in order to save the life of her father.

I don’t think it’s essential to have read that book first in order to fully appreciate this one, as the story stands alone, even though many of the historical figures we encounter appear in both. I regret to say that I haven’t read The Crown, but definitely intend to do so in the near future.

In The Chalice the English Reformation has led to the destruction of the religious way of life and Joanna, while still referred to as ‘Sister’ is no longer a novice nun. She continues to reside in Dartford, intent on starting a tapestry-weaving business; but as a member of a prominent family, related to both the King and the Duke of Norfolk, the powerful factions around her are not willing to leave her to a peaceful life in obscurity.

The story hinges on a prophecy made about ten years before the action of the book, in which Joanna was told that she would be the one to bring about a change in the fortunes of the Catholic Church in England and to undo all that Henry VIII had done to crush it. Despite her devotion to her faith, or perhaps because of it, Joanna wants nothing to do with the prophecy and in any case, does not see how someone as insignificant as she could possibly be destined for such an act.

The prophecy also tells that Joanna will need to meet with a further two seers in order to discern her course of action, something that she is determined never to do. But as events ten years later bring her into contact with the Exeters, Norfolk, Gardiner and the Spanish ambassador, it becomes clear that she is never going to be able to escape her destiny.

The plot is complex, but never confusing. Bilyeau’s writing is superb, and for the most part, well-paced; and in the character of Joanna Stafford, she has created an extremely likeable, multi-faceted heroine who is shown to be fallible as well as heroic. Joanna is devout, but it’s clear that she would have probably had trouble with vows of obedience. She has problems controlling her temper at times, and has an inquiring mind; perhaps not the best qualities in one expected to conform and submit without question. She is kind without being sugary-sweet, intelligent, but not all-knowing. Her impetuosity and honesty lead her into dangerous situations and attract the wrong sort of notice – yet she is brave, determined and self-possessed.

She has faults – the way she continually denies her attraction to a man who loves her passionately and instead turns to one who, while also loving her, is a much less ‘dangerous’ choice – is a huge self-deception on her part, as well as being somewhat frustrating for the reader. But although there are strong threads of romance running through the book, it is not the main focus. Joanna knows she has more to do than fall in love and finally, having been rather beaten down by circumstances, she makes the decision to hear the final prophecy and meet her destiny.

The Chalice is a superb read, full of suspense and intrigue. The author’s attention to historical detail is excellent – from the conventions of Court life to the day-to-day existence of the lower echelons, and she presents the reader with a fascinating glimpse of the intricate power struggles and politics of Henry’s court. She also raises an interesting question concerning the fate of those expelled from religious orders due to the Reformation; no longer able to serve God in their chosen manner, they were also forbidden to marry and were forced to live on the fringes of society, banned both from a purely religious life and a secular one. If I had an issue with the book as a whole, it was with the fact that the final section which deals with Joanna’s journey to and escape from the Low Countries felt a little rushed, but that didn’t in any way spoil my enjoyment of it.

I can think of no higher praise than to say that this was one of those rare occasions when the fact that the story is told in the first person didn’t bother me in the least – which just goes to show how gripped I was!

Highly recommended – and I hope there are more of Joanna’s stories to come.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
429 reviews259 followers
March 8, 2013
The Chalice is the second book in the Crown series by historical fiction author Nancy Bilyeau that takes place during the reign of King Henry VIII. While I haven't yet read the first book in the series I can say that The Chalice can be read successfully as a standalone but it was so good I'm definitely going to have to borrow The Crown to get more of the author's writing.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Chalice. Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres so it was a real treat to be invited to join the tour for this novel. Rarely have I read a novel that brings this era of England's dark history to life in such a rich and imaginative way that is both captivating and depending on the scenes, disturbing and dark as well.

While I read about Joanna's tale I became completely immersed in the story. For me if an author is able to suck me into the story from the very beginning like Nancy Bilyeau did while I read The Chalice that's a sing that she's an author to watch and after finishing this book I can honestly that Nancy Bilyeau can write anything and I'll read it.

I loved the characters in The Chalice. Joanna is probably one of my top 5 favourite historical fiction heroines ever. Her intelligence, cunning, caring and kind personality really counter balanced the dark undertone of the novel. I was surprised to find that rather than use the side characters more as props to the story the author used them to their full potential making them all integral to the telling of the overall tale which I loved. I love when there's a rich variety of characters that have some real substance to them even if they're the bad guys.

I also learned a lot about being a lady in waiting and the customs of going to court as well as other things about life during the tumultuous time period The Chalice was set in. You could tell right away that the author takes her craft seriously and you can tell that she's researched the time period thoroughly and that she has a great passion for her work. The amount of detail in the novel was fantastic and was neither too much or too little and I feel as though I learned something reading The Chalice which is not something you can say about just any novel.

The story itself though blew me away. The amount of intrigue and betrayal is potent and the plots abound in The Chalice. While there is the brief mentioning of events that have taken place in the first book I didn't feel like they spoiled the first book for me and I'm glad that I was able to take part in the book tour for The Chalice.

Overall, Nancy Bilyeau wrote a fantastic piece of historical fiction that is both lovely and brutal. I would recommend this book (and the first one even though I haven't had the pleasure of reading it yet) to anyone who loves historical fiction. This is a fantastic novel to read and will such you in from the first page.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my free and honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are 100% my own.
Profile Image for Gaele.
4,079 reviews80 followers
May 15, 2013
AudioBook Review- MP3 Download
It is rare that a mystery is as balanced with layered characters, rich in historical detail, and provides a mystery that does not overwhelm the story, but enhances and provides a reader or listener with the need to read more. Nancy Bilyeau has managed to craft a story that is trans- portative and informative, with the character of Joanna being so well-constructed that she nearly emerges from the pages.

While the mystery is more a religious one, and the well-known antagonism of Henry VIII for the Catholic church, and adding in several occult moments all centering on Joanna’s discovery of the pieces of the puzzle known as the prophecy. Beautifully defined and described, with a perfectly pitched, paced and enunciated voicing provided by the narration of Nicola Barber. Her subtle voicing changes to illustrate character delineations and the changes in pacing and stridency to enhance tension, emotion or action all worked in concert, providing the perfect accompaniment to the words on the page.

The mixing of fictional and historical characters provide an interesting counterpoint in both construct and feel, giving a sense of fit to the fictional construct within the time. While Joanna is essentially a pious and reserved character, her intelligence, kindness and sense of duty and purpose all manage to provide her in a realistic light. While she does have her moments of dither, that inner core of strength moves her forward to complete her quest.

While there are great dramatic moments, and several moments in which romantic interests and curiosities are aroused, the quest to solve the prophetic mystery and the clues that are rich in symbolism, Joanna is really most focused on her ‘mission’ and while she notices, and even agonizes over some of the moments, she is near single-minded in moving forward to solve the mystery, and decide if she is meant to fulfil or deny the destiny foretold for her.

This is one of those audiobooks that is a perfect accompaniment to a long car/train trip; although I couldn’t listen to it all in one sitting, when I wasn’t listening it was calling to me; never far from my thoughts. That I wanted to listen to all 14+ hours in one sitting is probably the most ringing endorsement I can give. Truly a fascinating book, for historical fiction fans, for mystery fans and for those who are just ‘trying out’ a new genre.

I received an MP3 download from Blackstone Audio via the AudioBook Jukebook reviews program for the Heard Word. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 41 books402 followers
March 12, 2013
For a thick novel of almost 500 pages, I enjoyed this more than most. Usually I groan about the excessive length because there always seem to be things that drag the plot along, but this story kept my attention for the entire story. I didn't notice any unnecessary details. I found it quite inspiring as well. Even though this is a secular novel, the heroine's love of the scriptures was quite touching. I loved some of the scenes where she used them to bless others, like at an execution of friends. I also adored the love story between her and the former priest. At the same time, it was quite sad.

Her other love interest had many regrets as well. I found his ending to be sad, yet inspiring at the same time, because he found true comfort in the scriptures as translated by Tyndale. There were a lot of characters I enjoyed getting to know, but Geoffrey was one of my favorites because he was such an intense man who was obsessed with the heroine.

The creepy spies really upped the tension because it was hard to tell who could be trusted. The prophecy had enthralling details and a riddle that unfolded slowly, but within the pages of the story. The heroine was a curious, yet strong woman who fought for what she thought was right. At the same time she had doubts and insecurities like the rest of us. The confusion in her heart between several men she cared for made the story more interesting and believable. Life is never clear cut and easy. The author did a great job showing that.

The darker parts of this story were sufficiently eerie without making me grossed out, or worse, freaked out. There were some pretty freaky scenes containing seers and whatnot, but there was a lot of superstition in those days. I've read a ton of books set during this time period and this was better than most when it came to setting and the overall mood and realism of the story. Plus, it wasn't full of over-the-top sexual tension like is often found in historical novels these days. The characters were tempted, yes, but they remained chaste overall, and I found that more realistic given the fact that she was a former novice (nun) and he was a former priest.

Anyway, great read here. Now I'll have to go back and read the first book. This author does first person POV well. The entire story is told through the eyes of Joanna Stafford, who was a perceived threat to the Tudor throne at the time. A fascinating and well told story.
Profile Image for Holly P.
209 reviews66 followers
April 30, 2013
Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel The Crown was one of my top reads of last year so I was excited to get my hands on the follow up The Chalice. I was not disappointed. Here we see former novice nun Joanna Stafford try to embrace her life outside the confines of her demolished Dartford Priory. Although she seeks to live a normal life, Joanna is a woman who trouble just seems to follow as her past comes back to haunt her. A prophecy which was partially revealed to Joanna when she was just a scared 16 year old girl has now come to bear and there are those with their own motivations to secure Joanna's involvement. Amidst the confusion of her new life, Joanna does not know who to trust and must keep her wits about her as her fate unfolds. Should she embrace it or struggle to avoid it? Complicating matters are her feelings for two men-one whom she feels more close to than anyone and the other who would do absolutely anything for her.

I am big fan of Tudor novels and I am definitely a fan of Nancy Bilyeau. She does so well with books that peel back the layers bit by bit. Poor Joanna is besieged on so many sides I never quite knew what was going to happen or even if a person she could trust would ever appear in the novel. This book is full of history and even if it was full of prophecies coming to fruition that gave the book a bit of mystic bent, it was a lot of fun following Joanna on her journey. I enjoyed this one just as much as The Crown mainly because the characters met in the previous book took on new dimensions and the new ones introduced were interesting and well drawn. Really enjoyed this one and can't wait for the next!

*review copy for tour participation*
Profile Image for Meg - A Bookish Affair.
2,445 reviews191 followers
February 25, 2013
"The Chalice" continues the story of Joanna Stafford, who at 27 years old has already seen too much death at the hands of Henry VIII. Tudor England is a dangerous place to be if you find yourself on the wrong side of the King and Joanna always just steps away from getting into trouble. The stakes are even higher in this book than in the first book starring Joanna, called "The Crown." Fear not, "The Chalice" is very much a stand alone book so you will be able to jump right in with this book even if you haven't read "The Crown" (but why aren't you reading "The Crown?" You should definitely read it if you like historical mysteries!).

I really like Joanna's character. It's so interesting to see how she goes from being a nun as she was in "The Crown" to transitioning to a completely different life. It's a hard transition and you see Joanna struggle between wanting the comfort of her old life and being forced to move on. I loved following her adventures. She's definitely interesting.

The historical detail in this book is really good. The years after Henry VIII seeks to get his marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled were tumultuous indeed. Ms. Bilyeau does a great job weaving fact and fiction to really bring the readers into Joanna's world. There is also a little bit of the paranormal element, which I really enjoyed. Joanna may have some powers of her own and spends a lot of time in this book trying to figure out what her power might be. The end of the book leaves an opening for some future adventures for Joanna, which I will be anxiously awaiting.

Bottom line: Historical fiction lovers will love this historical mystery!
1,148 reviews25 followers
February 17, 2013
Capturing the passion of a prominent period with such accuracy and exquisite detail, as to bring this dazzlingly dangerous era to life.

Powerfully evocative this arresting novel by highly acclaimed historical writer Nancy Bilyeau, author of the impressive debut ‘The Crown’ has once again triumphed. Fervent intensity, heated rivalry and shocking drama are merged together to create an unputdownable book that is addictive and deeply beguiling. The accuracy of well-researched historical detail is stunning, for it emphasizes the terrifying, turbulent time flawlessly as to give the past a thoroughly contemporary feel. Set within 1538 wherein religious reform, fighting for ascendancy and deception is at work I discovered an altogether deeper insight into the times. Atmospheric, intoxicating and profoundly reminiscent this ambitious work is as significant as those artifacts, Tudor palaces and Castles in which the past lies. Bloodthirsty and impassioned, you can feel the harshness of law which Joanna experiences as she is imprisoned and bound by Henry VIII’s ruling. Stripping back and shedding new light on archaic prophecies, spiritual beliefs versus man’s dominance that held such sway over a country and its people this certainly shines within a competitive genre.

Anyone seeking accurate Tudor ambiance cleverly combining fact with gloriously assured narrative will be enlightened.

*I was sent by New Books Magazine a copy of Nancy Bilyeau’s ‘The Chalice’ to read and review.*

Profile Image for Dianne.
6,766 reviews590 followers
May 14, 2013
Author Nancy Bilyeau that takes us back to the reign of King Henry VIII in her novel The Chalice, book two in her historical fiction series, The Crown. Young novice Joanna Stafford, a distant relative of King Henry VIII becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that makes her an unwilling pawn when prophets and politicians face off against each other in this beautifully told historical work. Joanna is intelligent and strong-willed with a highly developed sense of duty and honor that take her on a journey fraught with danger and intrigue as opposing forces fight for power. Politics versus religious power, Joanna must decide which road she will take, because in the end, the choices are hers to make.

The richly detailed scenes, the dialogue and the atmosphere created in The Chalice tells me that Nancy Bilyeau has made a commitment to her craft and is gifted with the ability to bring everything together into a riveting tale that transcends time! The brutality and inequalities of the era, the machinations of the royal court, as well as the struggles of life in general during a time where turmoil was the norm will draw you in and hold you to the very last page. For the historical fiction reader, this is a gem of a find!

A copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Profile Image for Sheree.
572 reviews106 followers
March 26, 2013
4.5 stars

I found Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel The Crown completely riveting and I've been waiting somewhat impatiently for the sequel to learn what becomes of Dominican novice Joanna Stafford of the out-of-favour Stafford family. The Chalice is without doubt worth the wait.

Set during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a time of great religious upheaval, Joanna is central to a prophecy with profound bearing on the English Reformation and Christendom. Tudor England gets my heart racing and to read of the political and theological dispute, the intrigue and subterfuge of this period from the unique perspective of a former novice is refreshing and exciting.

I'm a die hard Tudor fan but there is nothing I love more than a history lesson that doesn't feel like a history lesson. Hand on heart this pacey historical mystery is the perfect blend of historical accuracy and plausible artistic licence. Bilyeau's meticulous research shows, embellishments enhance rather than intrude and the pages literally fly.

I love being inspired to delve further into the history of a period and Nancy Bilyeau has outdone herself with The Chalice.

Recommend: Absolutely!!
Profile Image for Stephanie Kline.
Author 3 books32 followers
April 14, 2013
I could not possibly imagine a better sequel to "The Crown," which I read a little over a year ago and absolutely fell in love with. This novel picks up with Joanna Stafford, the young novice at Dartford Priory and heroine of the last novel, and it follows her on an even more suspenseful, thrilling, and exciting adventure as a plot against King Henry VIII unfolds. I absolutely love the theme of prophecy in this book, and Nancy Bilyeau did an incredible job tying certain characters together (though I won't give anything away)! There were so many twists and turns in this novel, taking Joanna far from home with many new characters in addition to the ones we already loved. I have to say, I have a new literary crush on the gentlemanly friar, Edmund Sommerville, and I was loving every page of (subtle) romance during this story. There is SO much more to this novel than troubled nuns and monks - there were real, human feelings, intense danger, and some terrific action. I could not be happier that I read this book. It has served to reignite the spark that "The Crown" created, and it makes me very hopeful for another follow-up novel. Go. Buy. Now.
Profile Image for Shan.
426 reviews20 followers
February 25, 2016
Dear Joanna Stafford: when a shadow falls across you or a man appears in the door, just FYI, it's ALWAYS GOING TO BE GEOFFREY SCOVILLE. You could make quite a drinking game out of this: toss one back every time Joanna says with complete wonder and astonishment "It was Geoffrey Scoville!" (Note: do not play this drinking game if you are listening to this in the car, but I do recommend the audio version narrated by Nicola Barber.)

Kidding aside, this is good Tudor fun, though the strength is in the plot and characters rather than the writing (which is perfectly serviceable but a little heavy on the cliches). Bilyeau skillfully navigates the convoluted alliances of various factions, and Joanna's deep faith and willingness to go to great lengths to restore the monasteries and pave the way for a Catholic regime are convincingly portrayed.

Also, we finally get some proper romance (though, of course, you can't resolve the love triangle when there's still a whole volume to go). I'm still pulling for Team Edmund!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mara.
105 reviews56 followers
March 26, 2013

I loved the first Joanna Stafford book, The Crown, and I think this one is even better! Bilyeau delivers an entertaining mix of action, romance, and historical detail that made for a VERY enjoyable snow day read today. Though the prophecy-centered storyline would not normally be to my taste (I'm not usually up for too much supernatural content in my historical fiction), Bilyeau handled it in such a way that the story still felt very plausible throughout. Joanna is likable and strong without being too perfect (though she is one of those heroines whom no man seems to be able to resist), and she responds to events in a way that feels historically accurate for someone still experiencing the trauma of having had their entire way of life destroyed without their consent. Her perspective on Henry VIII and the other key players of the time period is fascinating, and I can't wait to find out what the next book will hold for her!
Profile Image for Marg.
873 reviews241 followers
March 27, 2013
I don't think I have made any secret of the fact that I am a bit Tudored out and so I am being very selective about the books that I read that are set during the Tudor period of British history. When I saw that this book was coming out though, there was no question for me as to whether I would read this or not. Bilyeau's debut novel, The Chalice, which features a novice nun named Joanne Stafford who comes from a disgraced noble family was a good read for me last year but I did have some issues with the pacing.

Everything I enjoyed about The Crown was present, but The Chalice is by far the stronger book of the two. The pacing is strong and consistent, the mystery is interesting, the plot twists and turns, the historical facts are fascinating and the characters are captivating!

To read more of my review head to


Profile Image for Pascale.
196 reviews48 followers
March 25, 2013
I enjoyed this book very much at first but felt that in the last hundred pages that the author just wanted to get 'er done. The prologue foreshadows events that one would expect to be the closing scene of the novel but this was not the case and in fact the foreshadowing seem to indicate that there could be major character death creating a sense of foreboding. However, when the significant event occurred more than a hundred pages from the end of the novel it was all very vague and felt glossed over. This disappointed me greatly as I felt that this would be a critical point for the novel but apparently not. I did not read the first novel by the author that introduced the majority of the protagonist but I feel that any reader who follows this same course should be fine. Another draw back for me was the main character who seems very changeable in her affections and squeamish in regards to what needs be done as well as incredibly naive as to the political game that was the reformation.
Profile Image for Gaile.
1,260 reviews
July 25, 2013
This is the Sequel to The Crown, the first book of the series. It is 1538 and deposed nun Joanna Stafford wishes only to return to her closed convent and former way of life but thanks to the politics of Henry VIII and Cromwell, her only venue is to find some way to restore the Catholic faith.
Still she is afraid. Somehow she is the object of prophecies, therefore comes to the attention of The Duke Of Norfolk and still others more powerful. In the meantime she falls in love with former friar, Edmund Sommerville.
Full of intrigue and danger amidst a twisting plot, this one will keep you on the edge of your seat.
This one ends with a cliffhanger so if you read this, you will have to wait for the next book as all is not yet resolved.
Profile Image for Katrina McCollough.
390 reviews51 followers
July 18, 2013
I love the historical context of this novel, I definitely agree with my mom though who read the book before me, I don't get enough of an idea of Joanna's motivations. I do understand the base intentions of everything but a lot of the past events reference, I knew nothing about, so it was a little empty to me on that aspect but I read the book in two days so I was definitely wrapped up in the story. Great book thank you so much for the chance to read it!
Profile Image for Jessica Cutting.
23 reviews2 followers
August 19, 2013
The only thing about this book that ruined it was the ridiculous love story. She went for the wrong guy and then it didn't work out and she didn't even end up with the one she should have at the end, very frustrating. Otherwise excellent,
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