Review: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

This book was provided by the author’s publisher via my lady Blodeuedd’s excellent blog in return for an honest review. I haven’t been compensated for writing the said review in any way and the fact that the book came free of charge didn’t influence me either. 

Book info:
Form: e-pub format
Genre: historical fiction, religious thriller
Target audience: every reader who is interested in the Tudor era and likes thrillers

Synopsis (from the site of the author):

An aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father—and preserve the Catholic faith from Cromwell’s ruthless terror. The year is 1537. . .

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

The ruthless Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, takes terrifying steps to force Joanna to agree to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns home to Dartford Priory and searches in secret for this long-lost piece of history worn by the Saxon King Athelstan in 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain.

But Dartford Priory has become a dangerous place, and when more than one dead body is uncovered, Joanna departs with a sensitive young monk, Brother Edmund, to search elsewhere for the legendary crown. From royal castles with tapestry-filled rooms to Stonehenge to Malmesbury Abbey, the final resting place of King Athelstan, Joanna and Brother Edmund must hurry to find the crown if they want to keep Joanna’s father alive. At Malmesbury, secrets of the crown are revealed that bring to light the fates of the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted, and Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, Arthur. The crown’s intensity and strength are beyond the earthly realm and it must not fall into the wrong hands.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must now decide who she can trust with the secret of the crown so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past. ”

What I liked:

First of all let me tell you that after finishing Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel not so long ago I was really curious about this one as it concerned a similar period, only some years later – after the death of Jane Seymour, the queen number three. I wasn’t disappointed. My enjoyment was even enhanced by the fact that Ms Bilyeau presented the events as seen by the supporters of Catherine of Aragon and the Catholic Church, for whom Thomas Cromwell and his allies, closing the convents and confiscating their properties, were evil incarnated. It is always nice to hear the other side of the conflict.

Joanna Stafford was certainly a great heroine – loyal in her friendship, consistent, intelligent and curious enough to break and tweak the rules of her convent while searching for the truth. Her mother was a lady –in – waiting of Catherine but Joanna, after one horrible day at the court, preferred to enter the convent instead. At the end of the book it is explained how horrible her first experience really was. I found it a nice touch, showing that any royal court was a nest of vipers, a very demanding and dangerous place especially for a young girl. I would compare it to working for a big international concern – a lot of stress, plenty of traps, murky, merciless rivalry, no guidelines whatsoever.

Some secondary characters were a bit flat but I liked Edmund, the Dominican friar. His problems were interesting, I’m just sorry we weren’t shown more of him.

The plot was filled with excitement, intrigue and espionage; small wonder the book, although not exactly short, was a quick, entertaining read, especially telling a story of a rather unknown medieval king, Athelstan, and his precious regalia. I fully enjoyed the fact that the novel was very well-researched, at least for such an amateur historian like me. I especially liked the description of Stonehenge and a strange pilgrimage of monks to that place. I also liked the convent life and the theme of messages hidden in tapestries.

What I learned:

Athelstan or Æthelstan ( c. 893 or 894 – 27 October 939), called the Glorious, was the King of England from 924 or 925 to 939. He was the son of King Edward the Elder and the grandson of Alfred the Great . Æthelstan’s success in securing the submission of Constantine II, King of Scots, at the Treaty of Eamont Bridge in 927 through to the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 led to his claiming the title “king of all Britain”. According to William of Malmesbury, Athelstan had also the kings of the North British (meaning the Welsh) submit to him at Hereford, where he exacted a heavy tribute from them. His reign is frequently overlooked, with much focus going to Alfred the Great before him; however, it was of fundamental importance to political developments in the 10th century – Athelstan was the first King of a unified England from 927 A.D. Although he established many alliances through his family, he does not appear to have married or had children, although there is an uncorroborated allusion to an illegitimate daughter. (from Wikipedia)

What I didn’t like:

After finishing the reading I must say I felt a bit cheated. First of all, the tension started to ease too soon for me and at the end it kind of disappeared completely, even before I found the answer to all the mysteries. Mind you, the book is dubbed into a religious thriller. It was especially strange as it finishes with nothing less but a cliffhanger – we are not exactly sure what the future holds for Joanna and her fellow ex-nuns and ex- friars. Cliffhangers, contrary to the popular belief, don’t make me more curious; if anything, they make me twitchy and angry; in this case the ending was especially disappointing because I suspected something totally different, like a marriage of the main character with one of her suitors. Speaking about romance…I might be wrong but personally I didn’t feel the author handled it well. Let me explain.

First we get a very strong and a very promising beginning, then the whole thing, along with the guy in question, is forgotten for most of the book, then the author resurrects it all a bit superficially just to allow it to fizzle into nothingness. It was mean – if there are plans for a sequel (what author doesn’t plan a sequel nowadays) Ms Bilyeau could have at least hinted at it. In short I would prefer the novel ending in a more conclusive manner and its romantic thread executed in a different style (but you know me – I am rarely pleased when it comes to that).

Final verdict:

Despite my romance problem and a rather equivocal ending it was a nice book, especially if you like the Tudors and 16th century in England. I enjoyed reading it and I would recommend it to fans of historical thrillers.

The tomb of king Athelstan


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16 Responses to Review: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

  1. Blodeuedd says:

    Aye, I will post this one later on 🙂 I am glad to get you books 😉

  2. Tracy says:

    Think I prefer Wolf Hall – but it wouldn't be easy for me to read another book set in the same period as Hilary Mantel's fantastic book.

  3. Anachronist says:

    Blodeuedd, more often than not the pleasure is mine, thanks!Tracy, I also found Wolf Hall a better book but I admit it whetted my appetite for historical fiction from that period.

  4. I'm a Tudor addict…I'm working on Wolf Hall right now and loving it. I've seen The Crown on another blog or publisher's site and I just wasn't sure I would like it. I'm still not sure. Of course my expectations may be a little high given Hilary Mantel's incredible writing 🙂

  5. Anachronist says:

    Peppermint Ph.D. – do not delude yourself, Wolf Hall is a class of its own. I am not sure Ms. Mantel herself can write another book as good as the first one (of course I might be wrong AND let me assure you I would like to be wrong very much when it comes to that). This one (The Crown) was really not bad for a debut novel about Tudors but if you compare it to Wolf Hall well…you are bound to be a bit disappointed.

  6. Tracy says:

    The sequel to Wolf Hall is out in May, so we don't have too long to wait and see if Mantel really can live up to everyone's expectations with that one.

  7. Anachronist says:

    Thanks for the info Tracy; certainly May is not like several years away…

  8. This would be a look at Cromwell from another angle. Interesting. It does sound like a good read but I am with you Ana, I don't like cliff hangers. Resolve the darned story. Sometimes ambiguous endings work but sometimes they are just another plot device.I think Alfred got so much attention because he fostered English letters and he was really fighting a terrible battle against the Vikings.If Athelstan did not marry or have any children, then he was a bad king. A good king provides a clear succession for the kingdom.

  9. Anachronist says:

    If Athelstan did not marry or have any children, then he was a bad king. A good king provides a clear succession for the kingdom.The author tried to explain that in the book – the king was allegedly a very religious man and he didn't wish to marry. His religiousness didn't prevent him from having an illegitimate daughter though ;p.

  10. Anachronist says:

    I found this about the succession:When Athelstan died without immediate successors, his half brother Edmund successfully suppressed rebellions by the Mercian Danes. Edmund I was murdered at a feast in his own hall, at the age of 25 in 946, after only seven years on the throne, and his brother Edred succeeded him. my source

  11. Sounds like an interesting history fiction book. Oh and I think I know the perfect person for it. I think I'll see if they have read Wolf Hall as well!

  12. Anachronist says:

    Thanks for your visit Melissa and great to know I made you think of a perfect person for this book!

  13. Carole Rae says:

    Sounds like an interesting story. I must agree though…I'm not a fan of cliffhangers…they make me twitch and get a little angry. Great review!

  14. Anachronist says:

    Always nice to see you here, Carole!It seems cliffies are overrated…

  15. Aurian says:

    Historical fiction is sometimes my kind of book, but throw in a lot of religion, and you lose me. Also, I absolutely hate cliffhangers. I only read those kind of books when I have the whole series on my shelf.Great review Ana.

  16. Anachronist says:

    It wasn't excessively religious Aurian but, with the main lead being a nun, you cannot avoid certain topics…Thanks!

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