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The crown by Nancy Bilyeau

The crown (edition 2011)

by Nancy Bilyeau

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3224234,434 (3.91)7
Title:The crown
Authors:Nancy Bilyeau
Info:New York : Simon & Schuster, c2011.
Tags:mcpl, fiction, historical, mystery

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The Crown (Joanna Stafford) by Nancy Bilyeau


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If you are a fan of Margaret Frazer's Sister Frevisse mysteries - AND you are a fan of The Tudors (either the TV show or the historical time period in general) - there is no question: you should read this book immediately!

An intransigent novice leaves her cloistered order to be present at the execution of her cousin, whose family has fallen afoul of Henry VIII's religious policies. Regardless of the interference of a handsome young man, she is arrested and questioned - and blackmailed into becoming a spy. There are rumors that her convent holds a valuable relic, and with religious establishments being suppressed and closed all over England, political factions are all out to seize as much wealth as they can.

Joanna is, at first, a reluctant investigator... but once details start coming to light, her naturally inquisitive nature comes to the fore, and she is compelled to solve the mystery.

The writing is good enough, and the research is thorough enough, that the book should satisfy fans of historical fiction - while the plot has enough twists and turns to satisfy those more familiar with the murder-mystery genre.

I received this book through the Goodreads "First Reads" giveaway! Thank you Goodreads!
However, I should note that I am not one of those people who feels required to give out good reviews just because I didn't pay for a book! I always voice my honest opinion... just read my other reviews if you're in doubt! ;-)

( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
The story is about a novice fighting to save her priory during the dissolution under Henry the 8th. This book cast a different light on Ann Boleyn than most historical fiction. Other than that is was fairly run of the mill. ( )
  cygnet81 | Jan 17, 2016 |
The Crown, author Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel, is an engaging, action-packed historical thriller that is sure to delight fans of Tudor-era fiction. Set during the English Reformation, the novel centres around a young novice, Joanna Stafford, who, after breaking the rule of enclosure to go to London to show her support for a cousin condemned to death as a traitor, finds herself in the Tower of London for interfering in the King's Justice. While in the Tower, Joanna is approached by Bishop Stephen Gardiner, a close advisor to King Henry VIII, and asked to covertly locate an ancient relic -- the Athelstan Crown -- believed to be hidden at Dartford Priory. With her father's life at stake if she refuses, Joanna has no choice but to accept the Bishop's request. Cleared of all charges against her, Joanna, accompanied by two Dominican monks, returns to Dartford Priory and sets out to achieve her objective of finding the crown. Locating the relic, which has been hidden for hundreds of years, is harder than Joanna bargained for, and is hampered by a number of unforeseen events at the Priory, including a murder and the arrival of Thomas Cromwell's commissioners, who were involved in the dissolution of the monasteries. While Dartford Priory has always been a place of quiet refuge for Joanna, her quest for Athelstan's crown and events within the Priory itself reveals a hidden world of secrets and intrigues and it soon becomes apparent to Joanna that not everyone is as they seem.

Full of rich historical detail, The Crown focuses on life in a priory in the midst of the suppression of England's religious houses. In my reading experience, this is a subject not prominently featured in Tudor-era historical fiction. One of the greatest strengths of this novel is the plausibility of the plot, which does not suffer from an excess of unbelievable events or feature a heroine who is repeatedly able to get herself out of impossible situations. Instead, Bilyeau has crafted a smart historical thriller that features events and actions entirely within the realm of the possible and set firmly within a proper historical context. The novel's protagonist, Joanna, is well-drawn and sympathetic. The supporting characters, whether hero or villain, are engaging. While the quest for the crown is the main focus of this novel, it also contains various subplots, including the murder of a nobleman staying at Dartford Priory, that provide an additional element of mystery. These sub-plots serve to compliment the primary story line rather than bog it down, and I was just as interested in them as I was in the main plot. Although I had some inklings about how some of various story lines would be resolved, for the most part the narrative leaves the reader guessing right up until the end. I look forward to hearing more from Nancy Bilyeau, and hope that we haven't heard the last of Joanna Stafford!

This novel is highly recommended to fans of historical thrillers and Tudor-era historical fiction.

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Crown as a host for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. ( )
  Melissa_J | Jan 16, 2016 |
I actually enjoyed this book more than I thought.

It takes place during a time when Henry Tudor is rapidly closing down all the monasteries, driving home that the break with Rome is becoming increasingly permanent.

In the first chapter, we witness a burning of a noble woman... Joanna's cousin to be exact (and a fellow Stafford).

All the characters are very interesting and you secretly wonder who is a spy for who and has ulterior motive. And poor Joanna is caught in the middle, forced to spy and seek out the crown in order to save her father from further torture. She starts off very naive and almost simple minded when we first meet her, but as time goes on we see her develop into her own and become an intelligent and clever young woman who manages to not only outwit Bishop Gardiner but also solve the riddle and locate the crown.

I like how there's the mystery of the crown and how it's woven around the story of the Black Prince and Prince Arthur.

I don't know how I feel about the flashbacks.... sometimes they seem out of place. But overall, it was a decent story. ( )
  Dream24 | Jan 6, 2016 |
The Crown takes place in Tudor England beginning in 1537, just before Henry VIII's son Edward is born. However, it's very different from other historical fiction set in this period, much of which (by Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory in particular) features real historical figures as the main characters. One problem with such books is that it's hard to have your protagonists do anything that would be considered "out of character" for that historical person.

Instead, this book (and series) focuses on an invented character, Joanna Stafford, a member of the (real) disgraced noble Stafford family (although her parents are also fictional). Joanna is a 26-year-old novice in a Dominican convent (Dartford Priory, a real place), and many of the minor characters in the book are more important historical figures, such as Bishop Stephen Gardiner.

This provides debut author Nancy Bilyeau with some freedom with her main characters (which also include a local constable, Geoffrey, and a Dominican friar named Edmund). While I don't think a Dominican novice would have had quite as much freedom to act and speak her mind as Joanna apparently does, especially in THAT era, I do think nuns have more spunk that the average person might think (speaking of my experience with my own aunt, a nun). Thus, her actions and behaviors were somewhat believable. I grew to really like and care about the character Joanna.

The plot has been described by others as a bit of a cross between Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and Philippa Gregory's Tudor-era books, in that there's a mystery for Joanna to solve, as well as some romance. She is supposed to find the apparently-magical crown of Æthelstan, a real tenth-century English/Anglo-Saxon king, although the crown of the title is the author's invention. As with all good historical fiction, this has prompted me to learn more about this period of history. Bilyeau helps with the inclusion of a two-and-a-half page bibliography at the end of the book.

For me, though, the strength of the book is its highlighting of the effects of the English Reformation, particularly on the Catholic convents and monasteries of that era, and what life was like for Catholics at that time. Being Catholic myself, I get rather tired of most Tudor-era fiction that paints Catholics as fanatics at best and traitors at worst. Instead, Henry VIII is definitely the bad guy in this book, and not just because of the way he treats his many wives.

A well-developed female protagonist and the different, religion-oriented emphasis on the Tudor era will keep me reading (or listening to) this well-researched series.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library. This review also appears on Bookin' It.] ( )
1 vote riofriotex | May 23, 2015 |
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When a burning is announced, the taverns of Smithfield order extra barrels of ale, but when the person to be executed is a woman and of noble birth, the ale comes by the cartload.
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Book description
In this debut historical thriller, an aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father’s life and preserve all she holds dear from Cromwell’s ruthless terror.

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.
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Leaving her Dominican Order to stand by a cousin who has been condemned to death by Henry VIII, novice Joanna Stafford and her father are arrested and ordered by the Bishop of Winchester to recover a religious artifact believed to hold a sacred power.… (more)

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