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Reviewed by Colleen Turner
I think it’s important to first note that The Tapestry is the third book in author Nancy Bilyeau’s Joanna Stafford series. Having not previously read the first two books in the series before tackling The Tapestry, I would definitely advise others interested in the book to start at the beginning of the series. While it’s not completely necessary to do so, there is obviously a lot of backstory and history between the characters that, even with the author doing a very good job of trying to catch up new readers like me, just can’t be fully appreciated or understood when starting at book three. This somewhat diminishes the impact of the shocking turns of events that happen within the pages, which there are quite a few of. This being said, The Tapestry is still a very exciting and immersive dip into the dangerous world of the Tudor court.
When the novel begins our heroine Joanna Stafford is living a peaceful life in the country, weaving tapestries and living as devout a life as she can since Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and ended her life as a novice in the Dominican church. This peace is shattered, however, when she receives a summons to come to court for a possible tapestry commission. As much as she doesn’t want to go, how can she refuse the King? Especially when she needs to prove she can support herself financially in order for her cousin, the head of the Stafford family, to allow her to raise her deceased cousin’s son, Arthur. With dread in her heart, she heads back to the court she hoped to never return to again.
Her trepidation is well founded when someone attacks her as soon as she steps into Whitehall Palace. Unable to leave court without the King’s permission and needing to know who is behind the attack, especially when so many powerful men seem to despise her – most notably Thomas Cromwell, Eustace Chapuys and the Duke of Norfolk – Joanna attempts to quietly find out who wishes her dead. With the help of Thomas Culpepper, gentleman of the King’s privy chamber, and later Constable Geoffrey Scovill, Joanna will use the skills she learned in her training as a spy for the Bishop of Winchester to unravel this mystery and keep herself and those she cares about safe from harm.
This being the Tudor court, Joanna also finds herself in the middle of other mysteries and dreadful occurrences. Her dear friend, Catherine Howard, is being pushed into the King’s bed by her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, a power play that has proven fatal in the past. The man she almost married, Edmund, has disappeared somewhere in Germany and, desperate to find him, she goes on a mission to do so with the help of Constable Scovill, another man she has complicated feelings for. And on top of all this, Joanna finds herself amongst men she cares for who have elicited the help of those that practice dark magic in the hopes of freeing the King from the clutches of Thomas Cromwell, the man many see as responsible for the downfall of the Catholic Church in England. With all of this swirling around her, only an intelligent and resourceful woman like Joanna can hope to come out of it all with her head still on her shoulders and her feet firmly on the ground.
Anyone who enjoys reading novels set in the Tudor court will already be familiar with some of the more widespread issues being discussed – the religious upheavals, the constant shifts in allegiances between the King and his favored courtiers, the horrifying fates of Henry VIII’s wives – as well as the well-known characters populating the pages. Even without knowing Joanna’s backstory or her previous interactions with the other characters, anyone familiar with the court will already know the fates of some of the characters and will enjoy seeing them unfold from Joanna’s unique perspective. I would not recommend anyone unfamiliar with the Tudors to tackle The Tapestry without first reading the previous books in the series as there are a lot of characters and situations going on and, without knowing the actual history, it’s easy to get lost within the tangled web.
Having finished The Tapestry I’m very intrigued to go back and read the first two books in the series to see how we get to the actions in this book and to prepare for any future books in the series. This series seems a very well written and worthwhile addition to the wonderful world that is Tudor fiction.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, and their dogs Oliver and Cleopatra. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship. You can find more of her reviews on her blog.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Touchstone. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.