Title: The Crown
Author: Nancy Bilyeau
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Joanna Stafford is a member of a once-proud, now-disgraced noble family living in England under King Henry VIII. Joanna is a novitiate at Dartford Priory, intent on giving her life to God and her fellow nuns. But when she receives word that her beloved cousin is going to be executed for heresy, Joanna risks everything to be at her side when she is burned at the stake. But after the execution, Joanna herself is arrested and placed in the Tower of London. The only way she can leave is to agree to find a crown for Bishop of Winchester Stephen Gardiner, one that is rumored to be hidden at Dartford.
Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel is difficult to categorize. It’s definitely a rich work of historical fiction – Bilyeau breathes new life into this time period that has been done so many times before. By writing about the religious upheaval from the point of view of one of the people it will affect the most, the author has made her novel unique. The historical details are vivid and it’s clear that Bilyeau did her research while writing the novel. As a result, the reader is completely immersed into this uncertain period of history.
However, The Crown is also a suspense novel, in which Joanna must hunt for a priceless artifact. While it may sound like The Da Vinci Code, and it certainly has elements of that, this novel is smart and engaging. The comparison does The Crown an injustice because of its complexity. As Joanna searches for the crown, she is given pause by Bishop Winchester. She knows she must not give him the artifact, yet the bishop holds something precious to Joanna as collateral. This moral grappling really gives the novel added depth.
Indeed, Joanna is a lovely main character for The Crown. It’s clear that, while she is devoted to her future as a nun, she is still worldly during the present. This makes her very relatable, as she is trying to handle her warring impulses. What comes first, duty to her priory or her family? It’s a great question, and it just gets more complicated as the novel progresses. Joanna is a smart heroine, and Bilyeau populates the novel with well-developed and interesting secondary characters. It makes for a full, entertaining read.
The Crown is one of the most enjoyable historical fiction novels I’ve read in recent memory. The plot is thick and meaty, the characters leap off the page, and Bilyeau deals with the time period and history incredibly well. These aspects come together to make a really fascinating read. Here’s hoping that this is merely the first of Joanna Stafford’s outings, as I would love to revisit her in the future.