With all the Tudormania that goes on in the realm of historical fiction, both on screen and in print, this book was refreshingly different because it sought to tell the story of a few unheard voices that never got the chance to take center stage in all of Henry’s dramas. I actually didn’t know what to expect from this book, for on the one hand, it was historical fiction, but on the other, there were elements of suspense and mystery surrounding an unearthed relic that had the power to change dynasties. I get the feeling that this book is ripe for a series to be founded upon it, but I liked the fact that even if I choose not to read any further, the story was completely encapsulated in this first book.
Joanna was a spunky heroine in a time where spunk could get you killed. She’s fairly headstrong and inventive, but she goes about doing things in a very quiet way and sometimes it took me awhile to figure out just what she was hoping to accomplish with the things she did. This was wonderful, because I found her to be completely unpredictable, and I think a lot of her cohorts felt this way as well. She was clever and spirited, but it never seemed that her calling interfered with her individuality. What I liked most about Joanna were the same things that made her unique among the other sisters. Her passionate zeal for justice and her ability to follow through no matter the cost to herself made her an excellent character to read about and cheer for, despite all the messiness of her situation.
With the introduction of the relic that’s hidden in priory, I worried that the book would take on shades of The Da Vinci Code and be less than satisfying to me, but Bilyeau manages to stand firmly in her historical time frame and imbued the plot with various period references and details that made this a solid and tightly plotted historical novel with more than a dash of mystery. The mystery was essential to the story and carried with it many different elements of significance, some religious, some political and some personal. Through the manipulation of Joanna, Bilyeau carries her audience into the very heart of the uncertainty that was the hallmark of this time. Treason and execution, persecution and perseverance, sovereignty to king or God; all of these issues come rapidly upon each other in a twisting puzzle of a read that keeps its readers guessing.
Though there were some slight romantic ripples through the plot, romance wasn’t really on offer in this book, and I think Bilyeau made the right decision in keeping those aspects of storytelling tightly reigned in. By doing so, Joanna’s spiritual crisis felt more authentic and pure, and though there was tension in that direction towards the end of the book, most of the plot involved intrigue and complicity, not the tender stirrings of Joanna’s heart towards the men of the novel. I also enjoyed that life in the priory was examined so closely, and even the smallest elements were spiced with great attention to detail. As the story weaves its spell around its readers, one becomes fully surrounded by the intrigue and danger competing with the quiet and ordinary life among the nuns.
I greatly enjoyed this historical drama and felt that as a lover of historical fiction, this was just the tonic I had been looking for. I enjoyed not only the winning and amiable character of Joanna, but the fevered and robust plot as well. The fact that this book made me ponder the bigger truths was another welcome touch. I think lovers of historical fiction and intrigue would be solidly entertained by this inventive debut novel. A hearty and satisfying read.
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Great news! The publishers of The Crown have offered one copy to give away to my readers. If you’re interested in winning it, please fill out the form below. The winner will be chosen with the help of random.org on Wednesday March 21st. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.