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The crown by Nancy Bilyeau

The crown (edition 2011)

by Nancy Bilyeau

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2863839,411 (3.92)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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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 |
When Joanna learns that her cousin Lady Margaret Bulmer will be executed, she sneaks out of the Dominican priory where she is a novice and, donning a disguise, hurries to London to comfort her friend in her final hours. Unfortunately, she is not the only person who has this idea. Her father also attends Margaret's execution, and even dares to interfere in the proceedings. The Staffords are arrested and thrown into the Tower. In order to free herself and her father, Joanna agrees to help Stephen Gardiner track down the crown of King Athelstan, an ancient relic rumored to have mystical powers. Gardiner believes that the crown will help halt the Reformation threatening to engulf Europe and prevent its spread throughout England, but is concern for her father's safety that motivates Joanna, not religious fervor.

For fans of novels like The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, the mystery will be very satisfying. The mysterious crown at the heart of Joanna's quest and its connections weave a web of hidden histories and secrets. Meanwhile, fans of Tudor-era historical novels like those written by Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory will love Bilyeau's gritty descriptions of the streets of London and the Tower, and the beautiful tranquility of the priory. If you enjoy both of these genres, you will not be able to put The Crown down.

Me? I really didn't like Dan Brown's books, and the thrillers that hold my interest are few and far between. I thought that Joanna's quest to uncover the crown's hiding spot really slowed the pace of the story. Her sleuthing uncovers many side stories which vary in their quality and distract from the main search that is supposed to be consuming all of Joanna's attention.

Joanna starts out a very interesting character. A brave but rather naïve young woman who sneaks out of her priory to comfort a cousin about to be burned for treason? Great. I was really rooting for her! Then, about halfway through, Joanna started to lose her spark. Part of this was due to her budding feelings for a kind friar named Edmund; their spiritual connection was strong but despite the best efforts of the author, the physical chemistry just wasn't there. I guess you could argue that this was the result of the fact that a friar and a nun have other things on their minds, but personally I think if you're going to have these characters fretting over the impropriety of their emotions, make it a really juicy romance so that their worries at least seem justified.

Some of the other nuns seemed like quite interesting young women, but every time Bilyeau started to develop their personalities the nuns would end up dead, so I tried not to get too attached. Still, some of my favorite scenes were of the nuns going about their daily lives at the priory.

For those who enjoy the story, a second book about Joanna Stafford called The Chalice has been released. ( )
  makaiju | Mar 1, 2015 |
Solid debut novel

The Crown has been described as a cross between a Dan Brown and Philippa Gregory novel. Set in Tudor times this historical thriller features young Dominican novice, Joanna Stafford, who has just left her priory to attend the public burning of her beloved cousin, Lady Margaret, for treason against King Henry VIII.

"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 one of noble birth, the ale comes by the cartload."

A good entertaining read with likable characters, extensive historical detail throughout and a juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy, and betrayal. ( )
  jan.fleming | Feb 9, 2015 |

What an amazing, interesting book. This was such a hard book to put down. The story just kept getting more and more interesting.

The basic story in this amazing book is about the crown that Christ wore while on the cross. Did it still exist in the 1500's? Did some of the Bishop's in England try to find the crown? This book take's the reader through a couple of Bishop's who were interesting in finding the crown. This also happened during the time when King Henry divorced Queen Katherine from Spain so he could marry Anne Boylen. Also when King Henry dissolved the monasteries in England. The author has wrote a fiction book about true history. This was a very good and interesting read. I look forward to future work by this author. ( )
  kybunnies | Oct 19, 2014 |
This was an entertaining historic thriller which was perfect for my current mood. The author did a very good job with her history and interweaving a clever story between these times. ( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
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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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