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Nancy Bilyeau – The Tapestry

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Publisher: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
Pages: 380
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-476-75637-0
First Published: 24th March 2015
Date Reviewed: 23rd April 2015
Rating: 3.5/5

Joanna Stafford, ex-novice of Dartford Priory has been summoned to London but when she gets there she’s led away by someone who wishes her harm. She doesn’t know who he is and is unable to find out but finding protection she stays, meeting Thomas Culpepper and later her relative, Catherine Howard. Joanna just want to live her life, but she’s a way to go before she can.

The Tapestry is the third and last book in Bilyeau’s series on Joanna. It is well written and, as always, wonderfully blended with the true history, though perhaps not as strong as the previous books.

To the writing then: it is lovely. There are no two ways about it; Bilyeau’s work makes for a good read. There are your odd phrases and words that are a little too colloquial but not glaring when considering the fact the story could hardly be written in Middle English, and Bilyeau continues to evoke the Tudor period in a very natural way; you never feel you’re being taught.

The book is slow to start, in fact the story on the whole is a lot slower than the previous. There is far less action this time around and there isn’t one definitive plotline – this isn’t all about a tapestry. It is nice in that it aids the wrapping up of the series but it does mean there are times you can easily put the book down. Given the content of the story, Joanna comes across as weaker than before though this really is more of a ‘comes across as’ rather than a reality. Sometimes the character seems to take a while to realise what will likely seem obvious to you and this is something that is difficult to either defend or criticise. On one hand Bilyeau is writing about popular history and it’s very likely the reader will know the history prior to reading, ergo you know a certain person is going to become queen number five. On the other hand you’ve got to remember that Joanna Stafford (and so, in this respect, any real person who might have been a semi or regular stranger to the court) would not have known any of it so it makes sense she would take a while to catch on. Hindsight is everything. Joanna does over-think things sometimes; it is fair to say it’s down to the reader to let things unfold as they will.

The best aspect of the novel is one shared with The Crown and The Chalice: the blending of fact and fiction. On top form as always, Bilyeau fills gaps, sometimes to an astounding degree; it’s almost cheeky the length the author goes to but it’s cheeky in a very good way. The blending is exceptional – if you’re not familiar with the series, what Bilyeau essentially does is write her fictional characters into the factual history in a way they can be added and removed without leaving a mark. And this time around, Bilyeau has aimed higher than ever, using our scant knowledge of Catherine Howard’s life to construct one possibility of who the girl was. Joanna does not change anything at a fundamental level; Bilyeau rewrites without rewriting. (This can mean that some subplots seem irrelevant and confusing for a while as Bilyeau seeks to keep the timeline in check and provide background context. The major reasons for the sub-plots become evident in time.)

There is but one element that brings the novel down a couple of rungs. Grammar issues, changing names, and missing words feature throughout the book; the text isn’t always fluid and it can be difficult to stay focused, to not be jolted from the story. The writing itself remains lovely, which is testament to Bilyeau’s talent, but the book does suffer quite a bit from the errors.

The Tapestry takes someone who is surely beloved of many Tudor fiction fans and gives her story, her journey, a firm ending. It is slow (but steady) and does have its drawbacks but it’s a fair end to the series and, no matter how many times you may have read about the history of Catherine Howard, it manages to make you feel as frustrated or sorrowful or angry as you likely did when you first found out about the situation. And that is quite the boon.

1 Line from Pastime With Good Company by Henry VIII.

I received this book for review from the author.

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April 24, 2015, 5:50 pm

I am pleased you enjoyed the end of this trilogy. I have heard only good things about these books, sounds like something I would enjoy.

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