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Reviewed by Shannon Trenton
After her adventures in search of the Athelstan crown and the dissolution of her priory, former novice Joanna Stafford wants to live a quiet life with her tapestry loom, away from the intrigue of the court of Henry VIII. However, an unexpected visitor thrusts Joanna once again into the center of a mystery that threatens to drag her in – and under. To survive, she must face the secrets of her past (as well as some former nemeses) and work to unravel them.
I have looked forward to Nancy Bilyeau’s The Chalice since I reviewed her debut novel, The Crown, a year ago. It has been well worth the wait; once again, Bilyeau’s words flow off of the page and into the imagination, drawing the reader in to the latest exploits of Joanna and company. The story begins with a flashback to Joanna at seventeen, when she encounters a famous nun (fans of the time period will recognize her immediately) who delivers the cryptic beginnings of a prophecy in which she says Joanna is to play a part. For ten years she vigilantly avoids seers and even the whiff of prophecy, but now prophecy seems determined to find her. To meet her destiny, Joanna will face familiar adversaries as well as those who seem to be directing her actions from the shadows.
In the midst of high adventure, she must confront the exquisite tension building in her heart. Her commitment to the life of a nun in diaspora contends with her unsettling feelings for the rakish Geoffrey Scovill, who continues to place himself in her path, as well as her deeper longing for former friar and close ally Edmund Sommerville. What choice can she make, and what price must she pay?
Bilyeau continues to prove her staying power with strong characterization and great pacing. She masterfully balances many moments of intrigue and suspense with quieter moments that offer a look into the difficulties likely faced by the displaced members of dissolved religious houses who were forced by circumstance to rejoin society. While Joanna’s world spins wildly off its axis, for those not involved in her capers it simply continues to turn.
With the concept of the titular chalice, Bilyeau puts another brilliant mystical spin on Tudor history and myth, this time addressing the most curious of Henry VIII’s marriages. Joanna, if she chooses of her own free will, has the opportunity to change the entire Tudor dynasty – and the future of the country and people she loves. With gripping prose and a touch of the fantastic, The Chalice is yet another masterpiece of historical fiction.
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband, son, and two cats. When she isn’t reading, getting paid to play on social media, or running her own business she enjoys playing with her baby and cooking.
About the author
Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. Her latest position is features editor of Du Jour magazine. A native of the Midwest, she graduated from the University of Michigan. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
For more information, please visit Nancy Bilyeau’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Touchstone. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.