by Nancy Bilyeau
Plot Summary:'The Chalice' is a historical thriller told from the point of view of a young woman caught in the crosswinds of time: She has pledged to become a Dominican nun in an England ruled by Henry VIII, who has ruthlessly smashed his country's allegiance to Rome. By 1538, the bloody power struggles between crown and cross threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last. The life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies. As she struggles to forge a life for herself in a country that rejects her faith, she must also decide if her future should be shared with a man--and if so, which of the two men who love her should be chosen.
Review:Joanna Stafford's first adventure, in The Crown, read very authentically, with rich details, intrigue and mystery on every page. The Chalice continues Joanna's story with a new mystery - one that is more personal to her which changes the tone of this book. The mystery is still there, but the story felt much more focused on developing Joanna's character further - there were flashbacks into her past and more was seen of her relatives. And I enjoyed this change in tone because I loved Joanna's strong, resilient nature and her resolute character that doesn't come from her doing everything perfectly but from learning from her mistakes and striving to do better. The layers to her character that were just showing in The Crown were fleshed out more fully here as she struggles to understand the destiny that has been put upon her.
The plot of the story was very compelling, with the prophecy surrounding Joanna the focal point. The mystery aspect lay in that and in trying to figure out who Joanna could trust. And it seemed like every chapter ended with an exciting plot development or twist which made this such a page-turner. And don't get me started on the romance in this book! Seriously don't, I might cry. There is a slight love triangle element to this story that tore me apart because I really couldn't pick between the two men - both were good men with fascinating depth and both had great chemistry with Joanna. And I really cared about the characters and I didn't want any of them to get hurt. Oh futile hope. Not only was the triangle intriguing but there were also some unexpected twists in how the relationships turned out. I felt the romance aspect was very well done because I was so invested in the characters and they very much deserved a happy ending!
There were many great characters introduced in this book, especially Jacquard and Chapuys - both ambiguous, complex and such puzzles, while also introducing a greater historical scope to Henry VIII's actions. This book takes a look at the complex, larger historical picture of the events of that time while also keeping the plot character-driven and all in a very engaging and readable writing style.
Even though this is a second installment for Joanna Stafford, this book reads very well on it's own and I so enjoyed the unfolding drama and the historical conflict in this story. The resolution was maybe too quickly and easily tied up, but this novel is definitely worth the read for the roller coaster ride of emotions and the captivating plot. And I'm so glad that there will be another book in this series, titled "The Covenant"!
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