The year is 1537, King Henry VIII is on the throne next to his newest bride; the Church of England threatens the old ways of Christianity; and aristocrats and religious leaders alike are jockeying for power. Meanwhile, Joanna Stafford, a girl of noble blood and a Novice at Dartford Priory, breaks her vows and travels to the side of her beloved cousin, Lady Margaret Bulmer, who is scheduled to burn at the stake for high treason and plotting against the King. Sister Joanna and her father, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, caused a scene at the execution and were swiftly arrested, along with a mysterious, but helpful stranger, Geoffrey Scovill.
After several months locked in the Tower of London for her possible association with Margaret's crimes, Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, has a demand to make of Joanna - in order to save her father, she must find a holy relic hidden somewhere back in her priory. She travels back to the priory with two Friars, neither of which know her quest, or the consequences should she fail.
Well-researched, interesting, and suspenseful, THE CROWN was a very good, fast-paced read. There were so many layers to the story, both in regards to the crown, as well as the political story of the time. The story of the relic was fascinating, both in its holy significance, and its legendary mystical properties.
I must admit, there were several times I had to hit Google to refresh my memory on the history of King Henry VIII, as well as the other royal houses of the time. I tend to get a bit dizzy, especially with all of his wives, their family connections, and the men trying to get into the King's favor. Considering that all of my knowledge of 16th century England is from Shakespeare and historical fiction novels, it's always best to check with the facts.
I was also so intrigued by the idea of the Crown that Joanna was sent to find, I also spent some time researching other holy relics, their significance and where they are today. I am happy to report that author Nancy Bilyeau took her research seriously, which makes this story even more fascinating.
There were a few aspects of the novel that seemed a bit incongruent, or unnecessary - the twist with Joanna's father at the end of the story, and the constant threat of a romantic interest for Joanna. I could discuss these two points further, but they were not so significant as to ruin the novel for me. They were my own minor hiccups in what was, on the whole, a very good read.
I believe the ending left room for another book, if not a sequel, than definitely a companion piece. There were so many wonderful characters in THE CROWN, I could see a novel exploring the backgrounds and lives of any one of them!
If you are a fan of Phillippa Gregory or Dan Brown (or both!) you must read THE CROWN.
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About the Book:
THE CROWN (Joanna Stafford) by Nancy Bilyeau
Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. Most recently, she served as deputy editor at InStyle magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay "Loving Marys" reached the finalist stage with Page International Screenwriting Awards and Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. The Crown is her first novel.
Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher