by Nancy Bilyeau
Plot Summary: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.
Review:I haven't read historical fiction in awhile, and boy was this a great one to get back into the habit! (excuse the pun) The detailed, well-researched history described in this book created a completely immersive background for which a story of espionage, mystery and betrayal was woven perfectly throughout. For such a densely detailed novel, with so much history to establish, the writing is compulsive and completely engaging, and the author made these characters from a different time so relatable to today with their basic heroism and failings in human nature. Human greed and lust battles against intentions of goodness and the spark of the divine. The story and characters are complex in their motivations and because they are under the political pressures of a very demanding King. I was completely caught up in this vision of the past and the complications and pitfalls the characters found themselves in.
Joanna, as the main character, is a complex personality. She has many facets or hidden depths, which reveal themselves as she bears her struggles. I was never quite sure what she would do, but at her simplest she was inquisitive, intelligent, and observant and that made her a very admirable character to me. She's both transparent and not, and it's refreshing to have a heroine who does not easily fall in love or is so impulsive as to get herself constantly into scrapes. Although she does get into rather a lot of scrapes but they can't be helped. She's mature and intriguing and full of life.
The heart of this story is a the mystery of the Crown, and the labyrinthine windings of the Crown's story and the secrets of the Abbey made for some startling twists and revelations. It was a completely unpredictable conclusion to me, and yet one that of course made sense after the fact. The story is just a really good mystery, set in an interesting and volatile time period with well-drawn out and engaging characters and with great, fluid writing. I found every page compelling.
I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.
Special thanks to TLC Book Tours
I'll be reviewing the sequel, "The Chalice" on my blog August 1st!