Reviewed by Shannon Hopkins
Sister Joanna Stafford, niece of the Duke of Buckingham and novice of the Dominican Order, wants nothing more than to take her vows and live among her fellow nuns at Dartford Priory. A forbidden journey to a rebel’s execution, however, places her in the path of the most powerful men in England and in the middle of a centuries-old search for a mythical crown. Can she find the crown and save her family and the priory, or will she lose everything in the quest?
Nancy Bilyeau’s The Crown is an exquisite, compelling tale set in the most famous years of Henry VIII’s reign. However, the plot is part Tudor fiction, part Da Vinci Code, and nothing at all like the stories to which historical readers like me are accustomed. Joanna discovers clues to the crown’s location throughout the maze of the priory, from the older sisters, and the very homes of Joanna’s noble relatives. Danger lurks in every corner, but an unexpected ally lends new promise to her search.
Bilyeau’s prose is beautifully constructed without feeling contrived; it is easy to fall into the story and stay there for hours. As the story relies heavily on centuries of history, her descriptions are woven into each chapter with a precision that can enlighten even those least familiar with the background while never faltering in her quest to entertain.
Her narrative brilliance extends to the characters that bring her story to life. Joanna is a dynamic and refreshing heroine, dedicated to her priory and to her family, brilliant and daring in equal measure. The supporting characters are no less impressive; each has a secret that, when revealed, brings the complex plot closer to its unexpected, moving conclusion.
The Crown would be an exceptional offering from an established author; as a first novel, Bilyeau has surpassed extraordinary. Lovers of history, mystery, intrigue or a strong heroine will get hours of enjoyment from this story time and time again. I can’t wait to read whatever Bilyeau writes next!
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her fiancé and a room full of books that she peruses when she isn’t trolling Apartment Therapy for new decorating ideas. In her free time she enjoys maintaining her blog, The Writer’s Closet, planning her wedding, and baking tasty gluten-free treats.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Touchstone. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.
Learn more about Nancy Bilyeau and The Crown