Book Review: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau (plus comments on The Chalice)

I’m proud to announce that I am now an ebook reviewer for the Historical Novel Society!  Since my other reviews on this site are longer and more impassioned (say it ain’t so!), I wrote this one within the HNS guidelines as a kind of “audition” for the role. Following that review are a few comments on the second book in the series.

The CrownThe Crown is not your average Tudor tale. Sure, all the usual players are there: King Henry VIII, Princess Mary, Thomas Cromwell, even Queen Katherine, but they are on the periphery. This is the story of Joanna Stafford, a noblewoman turned novice at the Dominican priory of Dartford around the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.

Nancy Bilyeau does a masterful job of illustrating a side of Tudor life you don’t often hear much about. What was it like to be Catholic during a time when Henry was growing increasingly antagonistic of the Church? What happened to those whose religious vocations were invalidated thanks to the king’s vendetta? Add in a murder and the search for a precious relic that may or may not save the day, and you’ve got the makings of a great read.

The strongest point of the book for me was the portrayal of daily life, secular, royal and religious. Bilyeau obviously did her research and it shows in the details that make the world come to life. Joanna is an engaging, sympathetic heroine, and those around her, Brothers Edmond and Richard, the Sisters and Geoffrey Scoville are unique, if flawed, characters.The who-done-it of the murder was also well done, and is concluded in a way I never would have guessed.

But it’s not a perfect book. Sometimes Joanna’s reactions seem forced, like we didn’t get enough insight into the way her mind works to understand why she reacted as strongly as she did. I liked the relic idea, but the search for it wasn’t fast paced or life-or-death enough for me to hold my breath about it. (There are some great examples of how to write atmosphere around this plot point, though.)

All in all, this book is highly recommended for fans of Tudor fiction. 4/5 stars.

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The ChaliceSince the time I originally wrote this review, I’ve also read the sequel, The Chalice. I liked it slightly more than The Crown, mainly due to the whirlwind of action in the last 1/4 of the book.  Most of the same comments apply, although we do finally get explanation for Joanna’s reactions, which was missing from the first book. They really helped me understand and sympathize with Joanna.

Joanna’s relationships with Edmund and Geoffrey, as well as the use of prophecy (although historically accurate) seemed a little melodramatic to me, and contributed to my wariness during the first half of the book. But once that is dispensed with and we finally get to the action that Joanna must perform, the book picks up speed and is hard to put down. Bilyeau also includes a masterful plot twist explaining Henry VIII’s bizarre reaction to Anne of Cleaves. 4.5/5 stars.

Have you read The Crown or The Chalice? If so, did you like either one? If not, are you interested in them? Why or why not?

Six Articles for Readers, Writers and History Buffs

This 5th century ring, recently discovered in Britian, will important in book 2. (Photo credit: Mail Online)

This 5th century ring, recently discovered in Britian, will important in book 2. (Photo credit: Mail Online)

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed I spent almost my entire 3-day weekend making edits to the rough draft of Book 2 (working title: Camelot’s Queen). This means I didn’t have time for a proper blog post. So instead, here are a handful of news items and blog posts that have made my author’s heart sing over the last few weeks. I hope you enjoy them as well.

  1. Unique sapphire ring found in Yorkshire field may have been owned by 5th century European royalty Hmmm….considering the time period and location, it was likely to have been owned by a post-Roman Briton. Can we say King Arthur or Guinevere? Look for this ring to make several appearances in Book 2.
  2. Social Media for Writers – My agent extraordinaire, Jen Karsbaek, wrote this insightful piece on the Foreword Literary blog last week. She makes some great points I didn’t even think of when I wrote mine. (PS – Did you know you can get Foreword shirts/hoodies online?)
  3. Why I Love Novels in First Person – HF author Nancy Bilyeau (whose first book, The Crown, I am currently loving!) wrote a fantastic post over at Historical Tapestry on the merits of writing in first person. This POV has its limitations, but I have to admit I love it. I’m not sure I’ll switch third in the future.
  4. Let Your Characters Live and Breathe – James Scott Bell wrote a lovely post on what to do when your characters won’t do what you want them to do. My favorite tip: go with them; they’re usually right. The surprises in writing are actually my favorite part. They are what tell me this particular story has taken on a life of it’s own – and when it does that, it’ll be successful.
  5. An Interview with Ashley Barron – I don’t know any of this writer’s work, but I LOVED her interview. Worth reading for writers and readers alike.
  6. Think You Ought be in Pictures? – In case you’ve ever wondered about how books get turned into movies, here’s  a great post from agent Rachelle Gardener that spells it all out. (I don’t know about you, but I’m still crossing my fingers!)

And for my fellow history lovers, don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Celtic history and Arthurian legend posts soon. I still owe you posts on divorce and children in the Celtic world and I have two DVD series from the Great Courses to load me up with new material as soon as I get a chance to watch them.

What about you? What articles/blog posts have you enjoyed lately? Please share them in the comments so we can all read them.