Customer Reviews for

The Crown

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

Smart, suspenseful historical fiction!

The Crown
Nancy Bilyeau
Touchstone, January 2012
416 pages
(thanks to Touchstone for sending me a review copy!)

The Crown is excellent historical fiction, and a satisfyingly suspenseful mystery, set during the reign of Henry VIII. Joanna Stafford, a young nun, le...
The Crown
Nancy Bilyeau
Touchstone, January 2012
416 pages
(thanks to Touchstone for sending me a review copy!)

The Crown is excellent historical fiction, and a satisfyingly suspenseful mystery, set during the reign of Henry VIII. Joanna Stafford, a young nun, learns that her favorite cousin is about to be burned at the stake. Disobeying the Dominican sisters’ vow of enclosure away from the world, she leaves Dartford Priory to support her cousin.

Joanna and her father are captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London, charged with obstructing the King’s justice. That is where Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, finds her and makes his proposition. In exchange for her freedom and her father’s life, Joanna is to return to Dartford Priory. There, she must search for Athelstan’s crown, a relic so powerful it might grant eternal life, or brutal, cursed death. If found, it could end the Reformation.

The Crown is just about everything I could want from well-written and well-researched historical fiction. Sister Joanna’s perspective gives an excellent sense of time and place. Sister Joanna is devout and certain in her faith, and finds purpose in the rituals of the Dominican order. Supporting characters are equally well-drawn. Their ideas and beliefs feel properly anchored in their time period, rather than 21st century imitations mouthing lines and wearing costumes.

As Joanna begins to search the priory in secret, the level of detailed description means I can almost see what she is seeing: the shadowed passages of the priory, half-finished tapestries, leeches in the infirmary. Once things get more suspenseful, there is a distinct whiff of supernatural chill, to go along with the increasingly complex turns of history and conspiracy. Forced to leave her priory more than once as she searches for the missing relic, Sister Joanna has to make choices about her faith and her allegiances, as the conspiracy leaves her questioning who she can trust.

I’ve already seen a few reviews comparing The Crown to The DaVinci Code. Maybe it’s an inevitable comparison, given elements of Church lore, a gory murder tinged with the supernatural, and a main character trying to untangle conspiracy. I hope the comparison boosts Bilyeau’s sales of her debut novel. I also think it’s a lazy comparison that shortchanges The Crown. If Dan Brown’s fans are led to this novel, they’ll read Bilyeau’s nuanced characters, and well crafted descriptions, and see what they’ve been missing.

posted by ewillse on January 10, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

Suspensful read

Horribly disappointing ending!!! The fate of young Arthur, Joanna and Geoffrey Scovill left hanging.... the only redemption to this unfair conclusion is a sequel!!!!

posted by 2905977 on January 18, 2012

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  • Posted January 17, 2012

    five stars for historical thriller debut

    Five Stars for Historical Mystery Debut
    I’ve never been much on historical of any kind – thriller, mystery, romance. Oh, I’ll read non-fiction on the Tudor family and Henry the VIII, but that’s about as far as my interest goes. After reading Nancy Bilyeau’s THE CROWN, however, I feel as if all that might change. Ms. Bilyeau has given this reader a new appreciation for the historical thriller – no easy feat, I assure you.
    It’s May 1537 and Joanna Stafford, a young Dominican novice, has just learned her beloved cousin is condemned to burn at the stake for treason. Breaking her orders rules of enclosure, she travels to London to offer comfort to her cousin, only to tumble into a situation loaded with intrigue and mystical thrills.
    THE CROWN is a classy thrill ride from start to finish, marked by Bilyeau’s strong sense of character development and historical detail. Reading it almost made me feel as if I were on the quest with Joanna, back in 1537…and believe me, that’s quite a feat. History buffs will appreciate the painstaking detail, while mystery fans will enjoy Joanna’s desperate search for a lost religious relic. Highly recommended by this hard to satisfy reviewer. – Rocco LoTempio, Night Owl Reviews

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  • Posted January 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Great Tudor Fiction

    Sister Joanna Stafford thought she was only going to go be by her cousin's side as she was being executed. She never imagined she would become embroiled in a cat and mouse chase to find the Athelstan crown that is reported to be hidden in her abbey. Having chosen to live the religious life, she never wanted to be part of the deceitful world of the Tudor court. Having no choice but to do what Bishop Gardiner tasks her to do, Joanna heads back to Dartford with her fellow friars to began her search. Each are given a secret task that they must do but in order to free her father, Joanna must discover what the friars are also hiding.

    Joanna's character is unique in that even though she wants to lead the religious life, she also wants to know the truth and knows that not all things can be the work of the Lord. She is very intelligent and able to piece all the clues together. The back story of King Athelstan and history of the crown adds to an unique aspect to the Tudor thriller.

    A few things that for me didn't work was the forced romance that was scattered throughout. I felt it didn't really add anything unless Bilyeau would have expanded a bit more. The ending also left me wondering what the future holds for Joanna and her sister nuns...it just kind of ended.

    But besides that, I enjoyed Bilyeau's writing. She made you feel that you were riding on that cart, heading towards Smithfield and feeling that trepidation knowing that you will see your cousin execution. The descriptions were vivid and you can tell that there was a lot of research put into this book. Great for anyone that loves Tudor era historical fiction.

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  • Posted January 10, 2012

    Outstanding Historical Suspense

    When THE CROWN begins, young Dominican novice, Joanna Stafford, has just broken the strict rule of enclosure of her priory to attend the public burning of her beloved cousin, Lady Margaret, for treason against King Henry VIII. Determined to provide comfort and prayer to her cousin, even if just from afar, Joanna embarks on a journey that she is ill-prepared for in all aspects.

    The unexpected intervention of Joanna’s father leads to their arrest, and they are sent to the Tower of London to await their fate. When the scheming Bishop of Winchester hears of Joanna’s imprisonment and station at Dartford Priory, she suddenly becomes of use to him. He threatens to torture her father to death unless she helps him find the ancient crown of Athelstan that he tells her will change the political landscape of the country and save the monasteries from Cromwell’s destruction.

    Upon Joanna’s return to Dartford, she becomes a pawn in a game played by powerful, greedy men. When secrets, schemes, and murder taint the priory, Joanna is forced to confront her beliefs and make difficult choices in order to save her father and her way of life.

    THE CROWN is every bit as exciting and suspenseful as the jacket copy and descriptions promised. Bilyeau kept me turning pages and second guessing my predictions late into the three nights it took me to devour it. Joanna is an incredibly endearing character. Her internal struggles to maintain obedience while satisfying her curiosity and doing what she thinks is right make for excellent tension and story development. The supporting cast of monks, novices, detectives, and politicians is every bit as fascinating as Joanna, and their personal stories and contributions to the plot provide many layers of intrigue. In addition to the masterfully drawn plot and interesting characters, the prose is compulsively readable and stylish, and will satisfy the spectrum of readers who love history, suspense, and literature.

    If you enjoy books by Philippa Gregory and Ken Follett, I highly recommend THE CROWN. It is an outstanding debut by a talented writer, and I was thrilled to find out that Ms. Bilyeau is working on a sequel to the novel.

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