Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: The Crown

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: Hardcover, 409pp
ISBN-13: 978-1451626858
ISBN: 1451626851

(Received for an honest review from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours via Touchstone)

Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Nancy Bilyeau on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter

Excerpt from The Crown

Video: Trailer

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 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 fascinating and critical moment in England's past. 
It is often said that religion and politics shouldn't mix, but I believe readers will agree that Nancy Bilyeau's novel, The Crown proves that, that's not always true. Bilyeau weaves a story that incorporates the political machinations of the Tudor court and the religious fervor of key players in the Reformation together to create a riveting and historically satisfying novel. Not only is this book a historical fiction fans cup of tea, but it will also appeal to the mystery lover as well. This well rounded debut puts Bilyeau squarely in the middle of a genre that boasts such acclaimed writers as Philippa Gregory and Jean Plaidy.
This book was right up my alley. I'm a long time historical fiction fan, but I tend to be a little picky when it comes to anything surrounding the Tudors. Primarily because everything has to be about Henry VIII. Though this story is set during Henry's reign and does involve him to an extent it is essentially not about the Tudors. It is about a young nun who bucks convention and finds herself in the middle of a search for the famed crown of King Athelstan, the first ruler of a united England. Bilyeau doesn't make Henry VIII the center of attention and that was refreshing. I liked the fact that she chose to highlight the prevalent themes of Henry's rule, and not Henry himself. That's far too over saturated and Bilyeau had other ideas. 
Ever watched Histories Mysteries on the history channel? I love that show! And this book put me in that mind set. It is historical fiction, its very well researched, the period detail is rich and inviting and the settings and descriptions will leave readers breathless, but that isn't its only claim to fame. This book is also a mystery lovers dream. Bilyeau incorporates a lot of the political intrigue that was an inevitable part of the time period and gives it a twist that will keep readers scratching their heads and trying to figure it all out right along with the heroine of the book, Joanna Stafford.
Joanna is a nun. But she isn't a very good nun. She isn't too good at following the rules. She can't keep her mouth shut and she can't seem to stay out of trouble. And that's exactly why readers will love her character. She is very devout and has strong opinions about her faith, but she's also only human. She finds herself in the middle of one of the biggest mysteries of the time and finding the relic that the Bishop of Winchester is looking for, could prove to be the key to stopping the Reformation. Bilyeau really does a magnificent job with Joanna's character. She is easy to identify with and will resonate with readers from many different backgrounds. Bilyeau's character development skills are excellent and I look forward to finding out more about Joanna should the author choose to write more about her. 
There were a few areas in which the story slowed down a little bit. But I thought that was necessary in order to shine a much more intense spotlight on the search for the crown. This book has been compared to Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code and I can see why people would make that distinction, though I believe Bilyeau's writing is more descriptive and more indicative of the time period she writes about. Just because a book centers around a holy relic that could affect the religious climate of the world doesn't mean it's the same book in disguise. Bilyeau proves that she knows what she's doing when it comes to a historical thriller and she doesn't need to be compared to anyone. A very satisfying debut, by an author that's bound to be much sought after in the genre. 
The Crown is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.
I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag! 
Nancy Bilyeau is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children. 


Marg said...

Some times the desire to have something to compare a book to doesn't do it any favours, because I would definitely not compare this with Da Vinci Code!

I am reading this at the moment, and enjoying it more than I expected to.

oloore said...

Thank you for this interesting review! I like historical fiction and this one looks rather fascinating