November 11th, 2014

Review: The Crown (Joanna Stafford #1) by Nancy Bilyeau

The Crown
by Nancy Bilyeau

Book One in the Joanna Stafford series

When Joanna learns that her cousin Lady Margaret Bulmer will be executed, she sneaks out of the Dominican priory where she is a novice and, donning a disguise, hurries to London to comfort her friend in her final hours. Unfortunately, she is not the only person who has this idea. Her father also attends Margaret's execution, and even dares to interfere in the proceedings. The Staffords are arrested and thrown into the Tower. In order to free herself and her father, Joanna agrees to help Stephen Gardiner track down the crown of King Athelstan, an ancient relic rumored to have mystical powers. Gardiner believes that the crown will help halt the Reformation threatening to engulf Europe and prevent its spread throughout England, but is concern for her father's safety that motivates Joanna, not religious fervor.

For fans of novels like The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, the mystery will be very satisfying. The mysterious crown at the heart of Joanna's quest and its connections weave a web of hidden histories and secrets. Meanwhile, fans of Tudor-era historical novels like those written by Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory will love Bilyeau's gritty descriptions of the streets of London and the Tower, and the beautiful tranquility of the priory. If you enjoy both of these genres, you will not be able to put The Crown down.

Me? I really didn't like Dan Brown's books, and the thrillers that hold my interest are few and far between. I thought that Joanna's quest to uncover the crown's hiding spot really slowed the pace of the story. Her sleuthing uncovers many side stories which vary in their quality and distract from the main search that is supposed to be consuming all of Joanna's attention.

Joanna starts out a very interesting character. A brave but rather naïve young woman who sneaks out of her priory to comfort a cousin about to be burned for treason? Great. I was really rooting for her! Then, about halfway through, Joanna started to lose her spark. Part of this was due to her budding feelings for a kind friar named Edmund; their spiritual connection was strong but despite the best efforts of the author, the physical chemistry just wasn't there. I guess you could argue that this was the result of the fact that a friar and a nun have other things on their minds, but personally I think if you're going to have these characters fretting over the impropriety of their emotions, make it a really juicy romance so that their worries at least seem justified.

Some of the other nuns seemed like quite interesting young women, but every time Bilyeau started to develop their personalities the nuns would end up dead, so I tried not to get too attached. Still, some of my favorite scenes were of the nuns going about their daily lives at the priory.

For those who enjoy the story, a second book about Joanna Stafford called The Chalice has been released.

3 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Crown, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the in:
2013: My Extreme Nerd-On for Reading Rainbow and LeVar Burton
2012: The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
2011: Uzumaki Vol. 1 by Junji Ito
2010: Fashion Victims by Michael Roberts
2009: Giveaway #12 Winners
2008: Romeo’s Ex: Rosaline’s Story by Lisa Fiedler