To save her father, Joanna must become a pawn in the struggle between religious extremes. Gardiner forces Joanna on 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 possesses a mystical power that will halt the Reformation. Uncovering dark betrayals and murder, Joanna flees with a troubled young friar and with time running out, their hunt for the crown leads them all over England and finally to the tomb of King Athelstan under Malmesbury Abbey. There Joanna learns the true secret of the crown. Now, as Cromwell’s army of destruction advances, Joanna must determine who to trust.
My thoughts: The Crown starts the reader off right in the middle of the action as our protagonist, novice nun Joanna Stafford, arrives at Smithfield for the burning of her beloved cousin Margaret Bulmer. Trying to aid her cousin gets Joanna and her father arrested and thrown in the Tower. It seems she will languish there forever until she is visited by the wily Bishop Gardiner who tells her that he will get her released and sent back to her beloved Dartford Priory and release her father as well if Joanna will help him find the fabled crown of Athelstan. Fearing for her father's life, Joanna sets off on her quest back to the priory accompanied by Brother Edmund and Brother Richard-two monks sent to Dartford by Bishop Gardiner to take up positions there.
Joanna is a bit of a misfit novice. Her heart is in the right place but her decisions (including the one to see her condemned cousin) seems to run opposite to what the Sisters at the priory desire. I really liked the characters in this novel including Brothers Richard and Edmund, fellow Sister Winifred, the slightly odd Sister Christina, and Geoffrey Scovill-who comes to her aide in the beginning of the book and constantly seems to pop up afterward. Joanna herself is a strong willed individual and with many of the people surrounding her in the story you can't tell if they are allies or if they have more nefarious purposes. I always appreciate when the characters aren't so obvious and I definitely wanted to keep reading to find out the real motives for some of them. As for the quest of the Crown of Athelstan, I really enjoyed the thriller aspect of the book. Although at first Joanna's investigation didn't really go anywhere once it picked up and Bilyeau started weaving in bits about Richard the Lionheart, the Black Prince, Prince Arthur (Henry VIII's brother) and the origins of the Crown I was really intrigued. I was curious as to how the author was going to include all these elements and make it work but she did a fantastic job of tying everything together and making it flow.
This novel takes place during Henry VIII's reign but those thoroughly tired of the Tudors should still give this one a shot. Tudor characters make bit appearances and the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by Henry VIII is part of the story but the focus isn't really on them at all. The whole Crown of Athelstan story (and the reason so many wanted to get their hands on it) was a little hard to buy into at first. As I continued reading and the story got more fleshed out I was able to put aside my misgivings and really get into the story. Also I was able to figure out the "villain" in the story before the big reveal but the motives of said villain surprised me enough where it didn't really matter that I had figured out who the true culprit was. This one has just about everything I like in a historical fiction novel-well drawn characters, a good mystery, a few surprising turns, and a few unsettling ones. This book was definitely a great way to start the year off.
I received my copy from NetGalley to read for Nancy's tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. These are my honest thoughts on the book.
I am excited to be offering a copy of The Crown to one lucky reader!
This giveaway is open to: US
To enter: Leave your name and email address in the comments. One extra entry each will be given for helping spread the word via Twitter, Facebook, or posting on your blog.
Giveaway is open until: midnight on January 21st. Winner will be announced on the 22nd.
For more reviews and giveaways of The Crown and guest posts/interviews with author Nancy Bilyeau be sure to visit Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours to see the rest of the tour schedule.