Monday 26 March 2012

Book review : The Crown - Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau's historical novel The Crown takes us back to the time of King Henry VIII but the astonishing thing is, he only has a bit part. The book focuses instead on Joanna Stafford, a novice Dominican nun at Dartford Priory. I knew that King Henry VIII was reponsible for the dissolution of the monasteries in Britain but I admit that I'd never given a minute's thought to what this actually meant. The Crown gives you a fascinating glimpse into the experiences of the nuns and monks who were cast out of their homes, as well as those who were burnt to death for refusing to take the sermon swearing allegiance to the king before God. It's an aspect of British history that I hadn't heard much about and certainly never learnt at school !

The book starts as a classic historical novel, following the impetuous Joanna breaking her vows and sneaking out of her priory to attend the burning of her beloved cousin Margaret Bulmer and offer her some moral support. She ends up being imprisoned in the Tower of London for impeding the King's justice and is only released when she becomes an unwitting pawn in the self-seeking Bishop Gardiner's game.

The book then moves on to a new level, becoming more of a thriller as Joanna has to seek out an ancient relic that the Bishop is sure has been secreted at the priory. The Bishop is not the only one trying to find this incredibly powerful relic though so it becomes a dangerous cat and mouse game and a race against time.

There is also a vague inkling of romance, despite the religious setting, so this is a book that will appeal on many levels, although lovers of one particular genre - be that historical fiction, thrillers or romance - may fiind that each genre doesn't go quite far enough to fully slake their thirst.

As a very eclectic reader, I found it to be very enjoyable, introducing me to an aspect of Henry VIII's reign that I was unfamiliar with, as well as offering an exciting, if rather predictable, mystery to unravel too. The problem with all historical fiction is that you are never quite sure how much is fact and how much is fiction, but there is an impressive bibliography at the end so Nancy Bilyeau seems to have done some serious research.

It's an impressive debut novel so I'll definitely be looking out to see what she gets her teeth into next. The ending of The Crown suggested to me that a sequel is on the cards and the character of Joanna is certainly strong enough to carry another novel.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £18.99

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; Hardback edition (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1409133060
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409133063

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1 comment:

  1. Sounds really interesting, I might put it on my library list :-) I like a nice thriller or romance and I will put up with the history hehe!


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