The Crown

The Crown

4.3 38
by Nancy Bilyeau

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In this debut historical thriller, an aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father’s life and preserve all she holds dear from Cromwell’s ruthless terror.

When novice nun Joanna Stafford learns her rebel cousin is condemned by King Henry VIII to be burned at the stake, she makes the decision to break the sacred rule

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In this debut historical thriller, an aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father’s life and preserve all she holds dear from Cromwell’s ruthless terror.

When novice nun Joanna Stafford learns her rebel cousin is condemned by King Henry VIII to be burned at the stake, she makes the decision to break the sacred rule of enclosure and run away from her Dominican Order in Dartford to stand at her cousin’s side.

Arrested for interfering with king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, Sir Richard Stafford, is sent to the Tower of London. Joanna’s father is brutally tortured by Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester who leads the Catholic faction bent on saving England’s monasteries from destruction. In order to save her father, Joanna must submit to Gardiner’s will and become a pawn in the struggle between religious extremes. Gardiner forces Joanna to return to Dartford Priory with a mission: find the long hidden crown worn by Saxon King Athelstan in AD 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain. Gardiner believes the crown itself to possess a mystical power that will halt the Reformation.

Uncovering only dark betrayals and murder at Dartford, Joanna flees with Brother Edmund, a troubled young friar, and with time running out, their hunt for the crown leads them through royal castles, to Stonehenge, and finally to the tomb of the mysterious King Athelstan under Malmesbury Abbey. There Joanna learns the true secret of the crown, a secret tracing all the way back to Golgotha and the Relics of the Passion. Now, as Cromwell’s army of destruction advances, Joanna must finally determine who to trust and how far she is willing to go to protect a way of life that she passionately loves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bilyeau’s debut tackles the fracas that ensued when King Henry VIII began persecuting Catholics and other groups he saw as a threat to his reign. Joanna Stafford, a novice nun from a fallen noble family, defies the rules of her convent and travels to London to bear witness to the burning at the stake of her favorite cousin, Margaret, who has been convicted of treason. At the execution, Joanna encounters her father, who hastens Margaret’s death with gunpowder. Father and daughter are taken to the infamous Tower of London, where Joanna is held for months until an ambitious bishop, Stephen Gardiner, threatens her father with torture and death unless Joanna returns to her priory on a covert mission to retrieve a possibly apocryphal royal crown purported to be hidden on priory grounds. Despite Bilyeau’s intriguing main story line, the narrative becomes sidetracked by a subplot involving Lord Chester, the boorish father of the priory’s Sister Christina. Unfortunately, stock crazy characters and some glaring plot holes derail a promising story about one woman’s love for God and family. (Jan.)
Strong character development, realistic historical detail, and an atmosphere of pervasive tension coupled to a fast-paced plot make it compulsively readable.
All the ingredients for a thriller: murder, violence, intrigue, sex, and religious fanatics.
Woman's Day
A must read...Part The Da Vinci Code, part The Other Boleyn Girl, it will keep you guessing until the very end! —Book Pick of the Month
From the Publisher
“An engrossing thriller…[the] extensive historical research shines.” – Entertainment Weekly

“Part The Da Vinci Code, part The Other Boleyn Girl, it will keep you guessing until the very end!” – Woman’s Day, Book Pick of the Month

“Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical research throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy, and betrayal.” – O, The Oprah Magazine

“[An] inventive thriller…A captivating heroine, Stafford will have you eagerly following every step of her quest.” – Parade

“[A] captivating thriller.” – All You

“The right sort of action to lure fans of historical fiction: righteous nuns, evil bishops, real-world figures and a potential burning at the stake.” – Time Out New York

“When her cousin is condemned to death by King Henry VIII, daring young nun Joanna risks everything to be by her side.” – People Magazine

“History buffs will delight in the details interwoven in the story.” – Times Record News

“I’m loving ‘The Crown.’” – Redbook

“Bilyeau weaves her breathtaking story though a string of events to a pleasing conclusion while giving the reader a more thorough understanding of a complicated bit of history. Historical fiction as it should be.” – Florida Times-Union

Library Journal
Novitiate Joanna breaks her vows to leave her cloister and come to the aid of her cousin Margaret, convicted of treason against King Henry VII and sentenced to hang. Joanna is subsequently thrown into the Tower of London with her father and released with a secret mission—return to her priory and find a legendary, mystical relic for the bishop. If she succeeds, her father will be freed as well; until then, he will be tortured to ensure her compliance. Along the way, Joanna is assisted by a handsome constable and a somber monk, both with hidden agendas and secret passions. VERDICT Debut author Bilyeau promises a historical thriller with suspense, intrigue, and mystery—the delivery, however, is sometimes lacking. While the plot is compelling, the author drags out her story with multiple, concurrent subplots. This book will appeal to fans of Dan Brown and Philippa Gregory, if they can dedicate themselves to the 400-plus pages.—Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Bilyeau's venture into Tudor territory veers away from Henry VIII to explore a more obscure aspect of his reign, the dismantling of England's monasteries and convents. A young noblewoman, Joanna Stafford, is brought by her father to Dartford Priory, where she enters the novitiate. Soon thereafter, thanks to a foolhardy attempt to render aid to her condemned cousin Margaret, Joanna and her father are confined to the Tower, where they languish for several months. Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, engineers Joanna's release and return to Dartford, but not without extracting from her a terrible admission: concealed somewhere at the priory is a sacred relic, the Crown of King Athelstan, England's last great Saxon monarch. Her father will remain in the Tower until Joanna locates and secures the Crown for Gardiner, who, he says, intends to use its mysterious power to, somehow, thwart King Henry's rampage against Roman Catholicism and its religious orders. Accompanying Joanna to Dartford are two other agents of the Bishop, the recently dispossessed Dominican friars Brother Richard and Brother Edmund. Back at Dartford, Joanna's search for the Crown yields no clues, until a visitor, Lord Chester, drunkenly spots a telling tapestry and collapses in terror. Sometime that night Chester is murdered. Brother Edmond is accused, but cleared when Lady Chester leaves a suicide note confessing her own guilt. When Henry's operatives appear at Dartford it is clear that Cromwell, Henry's chief minister and Gardiner's sworn enemy, is aware of the Athelstan Crown's existence; its links to Charlemagne and Christ himself; and its unique proclivity: to bring invincibility to anyone of royal blood who is pure, and death to anyone who is not. Only when Richard, Edmund and Joanna join forces can they trace the legend of Athelstan to its roots in another monastery, but their faith and trust in the Bishop known as Wily Winchester will be severely tested. This fast-paced debut delivers Tudor intrigue and mystical thrills in one satisfying package—and leaves room for a sequel.

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Product Details

Publication date:
Joanna Stafford Series
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

What People are saying about this

Deborah Harkness
Nancy Bilyeau's polished, inventive debut has all the ingredients of the best historical fiction: a broad cast of characters, well-imagined settings, and vivid story-telling. . . . In Joanna Stafford, Bilyeau has given us a memorable character who is prepared to risk her life to save what she most values, while Stafford's desperate search for a lost religious relic will satisfy even the most ardent mystery fans. (Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches)
M. J. Rose
The events of the period come to life in Nancy Bilyeau's dazzling and heart-wrenching novel. The Crown is evocative, provocative, and full of intriguing characters—a gorgeously written novel that has mystery and history, pathos and depth. This is a stunning debut about a woman whose spirit shines through and deeply moves the reader. (International Bestseller, M.J. Rose)
Katherine Neville
The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau is an amazing first novel, filled with excitement, intrigue, espionage, and set against the background of one of the bloodiest periods of British history; the schism between Church and State. It's an action-packed tale of one nun's dangerous quest to discover the secrets of an ancient relic that dates back to the time of Christ. (Katherine Neville, author of The Eight)

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The Crown 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
ewillse More than 1 year ago
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.
Beachparrot More than 1 year ago
The Crown is a wonderful historical fiction set in Tudor England. What a story! It was unequivocally entertaining and a must read for historical fiction lovers. Care was given to maintain historical accuracy while artfully crafting a captivating tale. The Crown is packed with fast paced action, absorbing visuals and a fascinating array of characters; foremost is Joanna, the heroine of the tale. I liked her from the beginning. She is a sweet novice yet courageous and savvy heroine. This is a nice contrast in a character. I can’t recommend this book enough. It is just a great read!
Humbee More than 1 year ago
It was apparent immediately that I had the makings of a time-drifting adventure ahead of me when I opened the pages of "The Crown." Do you know what I mean when I talk about a writer's voice? Well, Nancy Bilyeau's voice rings out in storytelling definition from her first sentences, just listen: " When a burning is announced, the taverns off Smithfield order extra barrels of ale, but when the person to be executed is a woman and one of noble birth, the ale comes by the cartload. I would ride in one of those carts on Friday of Whitsun week, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King Henry the Eighth, to offer prayers for the soul of the condemned traitor, Lady Margaret Bulmer." I could hear the lisp of the narrator's English accent, the conspiratorial tone of her voice as she revealed the secret story's beginning, and I settled down in my chair for the reading. I'm mad for a book and an author who can not only write an interesting historically referenced book, but one that can transport me in time and give me characters to love and cheer for along the way. This is the strength and beauty of "The Crown" and Nancy Bilyeau. This book has some of the elements that originally brought me to reading historical fiction in the first place. It has the secretive qualities of a Daphne du Maurier novel (and I know the poor woman's name has been tossed about too much lately, so I don't use that reference lightly), and it has substance. I think "The Crown" will be noted on all the best lists this year. It will appeal to many on several levels. And, I personally can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, "The Chalice." I also have a feeling this won't be the last we hear of Nancy Bilyeau by a longshot. I predict she will become one of the major historical fiction writers of this decade. Highly recommended with a 5 star review
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely adored this book! As a fan of historical fiction, I loved the setting: the raid and destruction of the abbeys and monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII, as he broke with the Catholic Church. The period details where richly painted by the immensely talented Nancy Bilyeau -- from the terror of the Tower of London, to the bloodthirsty crowds at the barbaric executions, to the beauty and serenity of the abbeys and monasteries. But it was the mystery of the Crown that riveted me, hidden for years and years, only a few knowing its true location. Does it posses unimaginable power? Has it played a role in who will rule as King of England? The courageous heroine, Joanna Stafford, is truly a remarkable character. Born to a wealthy aristocratic family that suffered a frightening and unjustified fall from grace, Joanna is unwaveringly loyal to those she loves, risking torture and death to save them. As I travelled along with Joanna in her quest, I was quickly swept up in the suspense and intrigue. The characters are all multi-faceted, especially Johanna. She must rely on her wit, intuition and conviction to solve the puzzle. Fans of historical fiction will love The Crown, but so will those who enjoy mystery and suspense. Read The Crown, you won’t be disappointed!
VicG More than 1 year ago
Nancy Bilyeau in her new book, “The Crown” Book One in the Joanna Stafford series published by Touchstone brings us into the life of Joanna Stafford. From the back cover: Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the 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. While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation. With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust 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 a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past. The quest is on! How much danger can a young novice get into? Well, the answer, according to Nancy Bilyeau, is a lot. Joanna sneaks away from the priory to be at the side of her cousin who is sentenced to death. She and her father are arrested and sent to the infamous Tower of London. There Joanna is blackmailed to return to the priory to find the missing crown of Saxon king Athelstan. History, danger, mystery, action, adventure and thrills abound in “The Crown” Certain characters are full of deceit so we know that there is much more tot he story than what has been told Joanna. However, we only know what Joanna knows as she finds out because the story is told in her first person viewpoint. Get ready for a page-turning, thrill ride. Ms. Bilyeau gets us caught up in the story and the characters lives to the point that we actually hate to say goodbye to them when the book ends. I liked this book very much and look forward to the next adventure from the pen of Nancy Bilyeau. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Touchstone. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Henry VIII and his supporters are busy eliminating opponents, those who opposed his annulment to the first Queen and those who maintain the "old ways" of the Catholic Church, including priests, monks, friars, professed nuns, and novices. Henry wants his Protestant Church (that name is used here, though it was really called Church of England by its adherents) to thrive, and the coffers of the monasteries will add to his dwindling wealth. This is the story of those who oppose Henry but out of different motives. For Joanna Stafford, the death of her cousin marks the beginning of a long journey of suffering, confusion, shocks, betrayals, and more; however, it's a journey that will deepen her faith and yet free her from its restrictive boundaries. The protagonists are the nuns in her Dominican home, Dartford Priory, two Dominican friars, Brother Richard and Brother Edmund, various porters and servants, and Bishop Gardiner. The latter has freed her from the notorious Tower, where she has been imprisoned for attending her cousin's execution and as a member of the rebellious Stafford family. Gardiner holds her father hostage and will free him if she finds the secret crown that once belong to a medieval King, Athelstan. The Crown is said to hold a secret that may be a blessing to some, a curse to others, a mystery supposedly applying to those with pure or impure motives who wish to possess it. Is it the curse or coincidence that all who have possessed it have died very soon after briefly owning it? This is a thriller containing constant surprises as the mystery of the hunt continues and vile acts of others comes to light. But there are unique qualities to Bilyeau's plot. While some may think this is a proverbial stereotypical plot with like characters, nothing could be farther from the truth. For some want to protect the Church which is gradually being exterminated by King Henry VIII, others want to turn the tides of political power with the inherent sacred power of this crown, and others turn to violence because of events that snap the mind in a frightening, life-threatening instant! Most, however, have mixed motives that only get sorted out as the story progresses! Who will each character ultimately serve? Joanna Stafford is a feisty woman who exhibits incredible intelligence, a penchant for leadership and confrontation when necessary, but also a vulnerable woman acting outside of the confines of roles allowed for women at that time (outside of the seducers in Henry's court, that is) and knowing she yearns for more - and more as the mystery approaches an unexpected end. After what she has endured, how could she settle for a marriage planned by someone else, with a a shadow of existence under the shameful "Stafford" reputation? She can't and so the future remains an open question, and somehow the reader knows disappointment will not loom in the follow-up to this super story. And what of the other relics that are held and then hidden by the Benedictine monks? The Crown is outstanding historical fiction, a ripping thriller, in short A GEM!!!!
ScrappyDew More than 1 year ago
New take on historical fiction. The Crown is a truly wonderful read, historical fiction at its best. This is the story of Joanna Stafford, a cunning woman and novice nun no less. Nancy Bilyeau manages to create a work which is richly detailed and engaging without losing her audience into tedium. Joanna is tasked to find a missing crown believed to hold certain powers in order to save her father from the tower of London. Her search is tangled up with the lives of important figures from Henry VIII reign, as well as the challenges facing the church at the time. The characters which Joanna encounters on this mission are all well developed, unlike many novels where the main character’s shine comes from the dullness of her competition. Bilyeau keeps you in anticipation through the mysteries, conspiracy, and journey with a masterful interconnection of the details and storyline. While not probably an entirely novel storyline, being set among the monasteries and priories gives this work provides a unique perspective on the time. The story keeps you on the edge of your seat and just when you think that you know where things are headed and how the story will end, Ms. Bilyeau changes the game. Hopefully this sets the stage for a sequel, because I need to know what lies ahead for Joanna Stafford. I highly recommend The Crown to fans of historical fiction, religious conspiracy/mystery, and sixteenth century England. Full disclosure: I have been provided a copy of the book for the purpose of providing a review; however the opinions presented are my own and not influenced or dictated by publisher or author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Horribly disappointing ending!!! The fate of young Arthur, Joanna and Geoffrey Scovill left hanging.... the only redemption to this unfair conclusion is a sequel!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just reread this before reading the sequel and I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, the second time. Great mystery, characters, and unique plot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was great! I can't wait to read the authors next book.
EraCG More than 1 year ago
Excellent book!. Joanna Stafford is a young novice in England under the rule of king Henry VIII. She must find an ancient relic or her father dies. But the relic holds a secret . Wonderful story with great historical detail, mystery, suspense and remarkable characters. Nancy Bilyeau is my new historical fiction author. Historical fans will love this book. I can't wait to get the sequels, ( The Chalice and The Tapestry ). I Highly recommended!!!
eternalised More than 1 year ago
The Crown was just an ‘okay’ read. The writing wasn’t all that great, and the book seemed to try too hard to hold on to historical events, and mix them with the plot, as if the plot was predicted by the historical events, and the other way around. The back cover compares this book to Philippa Gregory’s work, but Gregory has a lot more attention for detail, and manages to provide better character sketches. All in all, just okay. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hard to get past burning a person alive, but hang in there. This story with Henry the 8th and his many wives in the background of the dissolution of the monesteries is well researched and brings the era to the front of the story, in all its beauty and savagery and skulduggery. That tension keeps the story moving. The characters remain in your mind long after the last page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An interesting look at the times of HenryIII and the abolition of catholicism. With a mystery thrown in, it makes for a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because it had received great reviews. Sadly it is one of the worst books I have ever read. The main character is vapid. If you have seen the Tudors, you can skip the first 100 pages. Nothing new here. Then the book has an identity crisis. Part two introduces the adventure. At the halfway point, it becomes a murder mystery. Toward the end,a romance briefly appears. The author needs to learn to do less and do that one thing better.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a very hard time putting it down. It was very well written. I hadn't read anything from this author so it was a surprise. I'll be sure to look for more of her books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This author put me right in the middle of the fears which circulated during the rule of King Henry VIII. An impressive amount of research was done to create a novel that is both entertaining and educational.