Review: The Crown

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The CrownThe Crown by Nancy Bilyeau
Series: Joanna Stafford #1
Published by Touchstone on September 4, 2012
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher

JOANNA STAFFORD, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

First Sentence: “When a burning is announced, the taverns off Smithfield order extra barrels of ale, but when the person to be executed is a woman and one of noble birth, the ale comes by the cartload.”

The good luck I’ve been having with historical fiction continues. I’ve seen The Crown praised everywhere, and there’s a reason for that: it’s really good. Though the novel got out to a bit of a slow start, by the end, I was really close to the main characters and captivated by the plot. Bilyeau writes beautifully, and made me interested in the sort of subject matter I wouldn’t ordinarily care one whit about, which I take as a sign of her talent.

Though set almost entirely in Dartford Priory and told from the point of view of a nun, I didn’t find the religious sentiments overwhelming. With historical fiction, I’m a bit more patient with the trappings of religion, just like I am less bothered by infidelity than usual. The author merely records, as much as possible, the historical facts, and generally isn’t trying to preach one way or another. Certainly, there is no preaching in The Crown, even though Joanna believes strongly in her religion.

Sister Joanna may be a nun, but she’s totally not the image I carry in my head of what nuns are like, an image which I know to be false but can’t seem to shift anyway. Joanna is not elderly, stern, and quiet, nor is she like Maria of Sound of Music, though she does perhaps have more in common with Maria. In fact, Joanna is quite level-headed, stubborn, determined, daring, and has quite the temper. She also has a thirst for knowledge, loving to research and to read. These qualities made her easy for me to like, even if I’m not remotely religious and couldn’t relate to her passion for Christ, which does exist, since she voluntarily gave her life to the Priory.

The Crown takes place during Henry VIII’s reign, during his marriage to Jane Seymour and the period beyond her death. At this time, Henry VIII has begun closing down Catholic institutions, seizing the money for the crown and turning people to Protestantism. The nuns of Dartford Priory, like all the rest, is worried about the likely inevitable dissolution that faces them. Joanna Stafford, for she was of a noble family before she committed herself to Christ, becomes embroiled in a scheme to save the Catholic church.

At the opening of the novel, Joanna breaks her oath to Dartford so that she can go be with her beloved cousin Margaret as she is burned at the stake. Her father also turns out to be there, and they are both arrested along with an innocent bystander, because her father threw gunpowder into the conflagration to help speed Margaret’s passing, thereby making it less painful. Taken to the Tower of London, Margaret is eventually offered freedom (and the ability to stop her father’s torture) by Bishop Gardiner. In exchange, she must return to Dartford Priory, which he will force the prioress to accept, and locate for him Athelstan’s crown, said to have powers, which he hopes to barter to the King in exchange for sparing the monasteries and priories.

The plot consists of the search for the crown, which involves a lot of research of legends. Though Joanna does not want to help the Bishop, who she mistrusts, she throws herself into the search, largely because she loves to know things. Added to the espionage, there’s a murder mystery and some possible future romance for Joanna. Of course, she’s a novice nun, but with the impending dissolution of such livings, she will have to choose what to make of herself once again, and she could likely end up either with Geoffrey, arrested with her at Margaret’s death, or Brother Edmund, who will also no longer technically be a friar when the Priory is closed.

Immediately upon finishing The Crown, I’m starting The Chalice, and I’m quite excited to do so. I’m really curious to see what becomes of Joanna now that the Priory will have been closed.

Favorite Quote:

“‘She will deceive us,’ he insisted. ‘I know it in my soul. She is a creature of our enemies. And she already knows enough to betray all. Haven’t we all been taught of the wicked frailty of woman? Their own Thomas Aquinas said the female is defective and misbegotten.’
Brother Edmund moved toward me, protectively. But I stepped in front of him, to confront my accuser.
‘I am a sworn servant of God, equal in dedication to you,’ I told Brother Timothy. ‘I have seen wickedness and defect and frailty in men who practice all forms of religion, greater than the actions of any woman.'”

7 responses to “Review: The Crown”

  1. This sounds quite good and like you can easily accept the religious tones since it was a huge part of this era. Wonderful review!

  2. I really enjoyed THE CROWN and THE CHALICE. Can’t wait for the third to come out! Until then, it’s gotten me in the mood for more historical fiction of late. Planning to start some Philippa Gregory soon.

  3. Seems like historical fiction can get away with a lot more with you, which makes sense because things were so different back then. Glad you liked this one lady!

  4. Christine D. says:

    Yay, for Tudor fiction that is not overdone and unoriginal! I have never read any Henry VIII fiction during his marriage to Seymour. I hope The Chalice is just as good! Definitely adding this one to my TBR! 😀

  5. Renae M. says:

    Jessie told me to read this series, so I’ve been meaning to get to them (I even bought them!). I’m generally wary of Tudor-era fiction, but this seems a lot more interesting. I’m especially interested to meet Johanna—she sounds like such a unique and also strong main character. Hopefully The Chalice will work just as well for you!

    • Christina says:

      The Chalice was about the same for me, but maybe slightly less to my particular tastes. I’ll be really interested to see what you have to say about them. I could potentially see them working better for you.

  6. Oh, I’m very glad it’s good, Christina! This has been on my wishlist for a long while 🙂

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