Curses at the convent.
Publisher: Orion Books
First Published: 1st January 2012
Date Reviewed: 25th March 2014
Joanna, a novice at Dartford Priory, leaves secretly to be at the execution of her cousin. She expects to bear witness and return to Dartford, but when the fateful time comes, her father rushes to assist the condemned and she, Joanna, finds herself in the Tower of London. Few leave the Tower alive but Bishop Gardener has a proposition for Joanna. He’ll spare her father if she’ll seek the crown of the old king, Athelstan, a legendary item said to bring greatness – and ruin.
The Crown is a particularly well-researched and well-written Tudor suspense that may not have the shock factor of some books but continues on steadily and with a good few surprises in store.
The strongest element, the stand out element, is the writing and construction. Whilst of course not written completely correctly (because a book written in true Tudor text would be difficult to decipher) the language is good, there are no sudden uses of modern slang, and the times when modern phrasing is used are slight, few and far between, and in such small supply that it doesn’t matter.
This leads on to construction – Bilyeau has done her research. As in the later The Chalice – mentioned here because this reviewer read it beforehand – the history is accurate, the biases are taken from the historical views of the people rather than placed upon the characters by the author, and the times when Bilyeau swerves towards fiction fit together with the factual history like gloves. Joanna is a fictional character, but her family and those she meets are often not, and there are never any occasions where it is unbelievable that these events could have happened. Those looking to learn about the Henrican era will find plenty of true history here, and Bilyeau does not shy away from discussing where her imagination plays its role.
Except in the case of the cursed crown, of course. But this is supposed to be. In the creation of the Athelstan crown, Bilyeau has drawn from the questions for which we have no, or at the very least scant, answers. The crown’s curse affects those royals who did not live long or who died of mysterious causes. The make-up of the crown is not unbelievable when given all the relics in the world and in many ways it echoes such legends as the holy grail and the shroud of Turin.
Bilyeau has populated her book with a vast number of primary and secondary characters. The most developed are fictional, which makes sense; it must be said that in terms of history itself a basic grounding, perhaps even a fair grounding, in the Tudor dynasty and court politics will add to the understanding and enjoyment – the factual characters are well-known. There are a few meetings that can seem too easy but the suggestion of romance means that it is not necessarily a drawback, and of course in a book where the dissolution of the religious houses is a key point, Joanna’s future is a constant question.
Also included as themes are sexual abuse and prejudice against women. Both of these are explored as potential reasons for a woman to choose the life of a nun. A religious life was a way for women to escape the average existence of a woman of the times, to gain an education and make their own choices rather than be subject to the whims and demands of their families, and Bilyeau brings in these and a variety of other reasons to her book.
The book ends quite swiftly, being perhaps a little less striking than you may think, but in choosing the path she has, Bilyeau looks at yet another issue in Tudor England, one which is likely to strike a chord with the reader as the world has changed so much since.
The Crown focuses on not just a person but a community rarely studied in fiction. It examines what is often simplified to a brief schedule the day-to-day life of a nun and the true happiness that could be found therein. And it does this whilst being accurate to the time, unbiased, and packed full of information.
March 26, 2014, 9:29 am
This series reminded me that I am not completely Tudored out. When it is well done I can still read it and enjoy it, and this one is well done!
March 26, 2014, 3:33 pm
I really like the sound of this! Thank you for sharing your detailed thoughts Charlie.
March 26, 2014, 5:30 pm
It’s good to see a review on The Crown after having read quite a few on The Chalice. These books do sound interesting. I know so little of the history described in your review. I will have to look for this series.
March 26, 2014, 8:27 pm
I’ve read both of Nancy Bilyeau’s books and I think I enjoyed this first one a bit more than The Chalice. I’m hoping there’s going to be a third Joanna Stafford book soon!
March 26, 2014, 9:00 pm
THis one sounds pretty good :) And I do love history
March 27, 2014, 1:02 pm
Like Marg, this series made me like the Tudor-era once more. Lovely review — you make me want to reread this and the first book!
March 27, 2014, 5:20 pm
Another author of historical fiction that I wasn’t aware of, I shall have to check this series out.