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68 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart historical fiction with plenty of suspense
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...
Published on January 10, 2012 by E

versus
60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unique Tudor thriller that falls short in some areas
The Crown is Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel about a Dominican nun set during the Tudor era right before the death of Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry VIII. Sister Joanna, of the disgraced Stafford family, is cloistered at Dartford Priory when she hears the news of the execution of her most beloved cousin, Margaret. She breaks the rules of the priory and sneaks...
Published on January 16, 2012 by dianaers


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68 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart historical fiction with plenty of suspense, January 10, 2012
This review is from: The Crown (Joanna Stafford) (Hardcover)
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.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unique Tudor thriller that falls short in some areas, January 16, 2012
By 
dianaers (Fort Worth, TX) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Crown (Joanna Stafford) (Hardcover)
The Crown is Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel about a Dominican nun set during the Tudor era right before the death of Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry VIII. Sister Joanna, of the disgraced Stafford family, is cloistered at Dartford Priory when she hears the news of the execution of her most beloved cousin, Margaret. She breaks the rules of the priory and sneaks out to be with Margaret in her time of need. She, along with her father, are arrested and sent to the Tower of London.

There, she meets the Bishop of Winchester, who blackmails Joanna; she is forced to seek out an ancient relic of the Saxon king Athelstan, the first king of a unified England since 927 CE. The relic that she seeks is his crown, which, upon wearing it, King Athelstan was able to win an insurmountable battle to unite England.

The Crown has been described as a cross between a Dan Brown and Philippa Gregory novel, which is definitely apparent. I love the idea of a historical fiction thriller, especially set during the Tudor time period. There are a lot of twists and turns, and while predictable at times, a lot of it kept me guessing. It definitely wasn't a flashy thriller. Not very difficult to read at all. I also found The Crown to be well researched.

The first fifty pages captured me, but upon Joanna's release from the Tower of London, it seemed to me that the story kind of stagnated. I felt that the flow was a bit stunted and never really picked up for me. I also found it to be anti-climactic in the end. It seems like this book is setting itself up for a sequel.

I loved Joanna's character, though. It was really interesting to read about the political intrigue of the time through the eyes of someone that wasn't a courtier. Despite being a nun, she struggles with her human nature.

I had really high hopes for this story, but in the end, it just really fell short for me. If there is sequel for The Crown, though, I think that I would pick it up.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A more realistic take on the Tudors, and very well-written, January 10, 2012
This review is from: The Crown (Joanna Stafford) (Hardcover)
When I picked up this book to start reading I was thinking, OK, how exciting can a book about a nun really be? Well the answer is: VERY! I was pleasantly surprised to discover this book was nothing like I was expecting and Joanna Stafford made for a great protagonist. I think that's mainly because she's really not cut out to be a nun, despite her fervent faith, but she hasn't quite figured that out yet. She's educated and she was raised to be a lady of the court, so she's wise in many ways that her fellow sisters are not. She's opinionated, has a take charge attitude, stands up for what she believes in, and has a hard time keeping her mouth shut. Those qualities don't make for a very good nun, but they do make for an excellent heroine!

This is a mystery and the back cover copy does a good job of setting up the story, so I won't risk divulging any spoilers by describing the plot. But I will say that Nancy Bilyeau is an excellent writer. She really gets into some of the political intricacies of Henry VIII and his advisors, and seamlessly weaves them into a tale of blackmail and the search for a holy relic set amidst the lives of some of the people who have the most to lose from Thomas Cromwell's war against the Catholic Church. The narrative is perfect, the period details are just right, the characters are intriguing, and it really is a well-crafted novel.

But, there are two things that keep me from rating this higher. The story is exciting and takes some good twists and turns, but it also suffers from some very slow periods and I found myself skimming to get back to the action. And, as a hopeless romantic, I was disappointed in some choices Joanna made at the end of the story and I was left feeling a little dissatisfied. So I had to find out if Nancy is writing another Joanna Stafford book, and she is! After the way things played out in The Crown, Joanna should be in for some adventurous times in a dangerous environment and I'm looking forward to the continuation of her story.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting historical fiction mystery, January 11, 2012
This review is from: The Crown (Joanna Stafford) (Hardcover)
I was really inmpressed by Nancy Bilyeau's first novel. It had everything that I love in a good historical fiction book. It was an exciting read from the very beginning with a mystery that had me guessing until the very end. It is filled with lots of history and interesting facts from this famous time in history, the reign of Henry VIII. There are some great characters in the book that really move the story along well, the most important being Joanna Stafford. I loved reading about Joanna and all of her many adventures, she is smart, brave, and always struggles to do what she thinks is right.

One thing that I really enjoyed about the book was that it is a story about England during Henry VIII's time, but Henry is not a main character in the story at all. It was nice to read about some other people that were important players at this time as well. I particularly liked reading about Bishop Gardiner, he was so complex and devious I spent a lot of time trying to figure out his motives and real goal. The two monks that are sent to help Joanna are also interesting characters that kept me wondering if they were truly good monks or had an agenda of their own.

This is story filled with action and suspense and kept me up late into the night so I could find out how it ended. It is a complicated mystery with several layers of history and clues to go through to understand how everything comes to a satisying conclusion in the end. I highly recommend it to any historical fiction fan, especially for those who enjoy reading about the Tudor's but is looking for something a little bit different. I am definitely looking forward to the next novel by this new author.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "It is a blessing and it is a curse.", January 10, 2012
This review is from: The Crown (Joanna Stafford) (Hardcover)
Bilyeau's historical novel focuses on the dissolution of religious houses circa 1537, after Henry VIII's clash with the Church over the annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn. With Thomas Cromwell at the ready to carry out the king's orders, wealthy monasteries are stripped of their valuables for the king's treasury, the smaller religious houses awaiting final decisions about their bleak futures. An uprising in the north against the Reformation and support for the old religion evokes Henry's wrath, participators in the rebellion dealt swift and bloody retribution. In London, a crowd is gathering in anticipation of the burning of Margaret Bulmer, wife of the rebellion's leader, John Bulmer. Among the crowd is Dominican novice Joanna Stafford, who has left Dartford Priory without permission to see her childhood companion and cousin one last time.

Harboring no political agenda, Joanna becomes embroiled in a melee, taken to the Tower, where is comes face to face with the menacing Duke of Norfolk and Stephen Gardner, Bishop of Winchester. The bishop sets her on a quest; failure promising dire consequences, Joanna charged with locating a precious relic said to be hidden at Dartford Priory. The Athelstan crown is infused with both good and evil, storied since the days of Charlemagne in the 8th century. Gardiner must possess the crown before the equally wily Cromwell usurps it for the king. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns, desperate to succeed with her mission. Blending conflicting political and religious agendas, family loyalties and Joanna's commitment to her vocation, Bilyeau fashions a mystery steeped in violence and threat, embellished with descriptions of torture on the rack in the Tower of London, secret passages in the ancient priory and hidden missives to Gardiner, the sweet voices of the sisters ringing through the priory at each office. Joanna is deftly trapped by Gardiner as interested parties close in on the priory, her fellow nuns suspicious as she searches everywhere for the Athelstan crown. Filled with characters both spiritual and venal, Bilyeau captures the turmoil, passions and fear washing over England in the wake of Henry's critical break from Rome. Luan Gaines/2012.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars for Historical Mystery, January 17, 2012
This review is from: The Crown (Joanna Stafford) (Hardcover)
Five Stars for Historical Mystery Debut
I've never been much on historical of any kind - thriller, mystery, romance. Oh, I'll read non-fiction on the Tudor family and Henry the VIII, but that's about as far as my interest goes. After reading Nancy Bilyeau's THE CROWN, however, I feel as if all that might change. Ms. Bilyeau has given this reader a new appreciation for the historical thriller - no easy feat, I assure you.
It's May 1537 and Joanna Stafford, a young Dominican novice, has just learned her beloved cousin is condemned to burn at the stake for treason. Breaking her orders rules of enclosure, she travels to London to offer comfort to her cousin, only to tumble into a situation loaded with intrigue and mystical thrills.
THE CROWN is a classy thrill ride from start to finish, marked by Bilyeau's strong sense of character development and historical detail. Reading it almost made me feel as if I were on the quest with Joanna, back in 1537...and believe me, that's quite a feat. History buffs will appreciate the painstaking detail, while mystery fans will enjoy Joanna's desperate search for a lost religious relic. Highly recommended by this hard to satisfy reviewer. - Rocco LoTempio, Night Owl Reviews
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly engrossing young nun/sleuth in Tudor England, January 15, 2012
By 
Stephanie Cowell (New York, New York United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: The Crown (Kindle Edition)
I read THE CROWN in a little more than a day, so fascinated by that terrible time in English history when Henry VIII pulled down the Catholic Church, closing and often destroying hundreds of ancient monasteries, great and small, and snatching their precious chalices and books and even their very stones for his own greed. That brutal King with his cruel beady eyes did more than divorce or behead wives for bareness or adultery - he destroyed several centuries of English heritage. We can walk today through the ruins of the "bare ruin'd choirs."

THE CROWN is the story of one young aristocratic nun Joanna who stood against him; not only for the hopeful preservation of her own religious house Dartford but because her beloved father is imprisoned in the Tower and his life will be forfeit unless she finds the Crown of Athelstan, hidden supposedly in a secret chamber of her monastery. Unexpected revelations of incest and murder within the Dartford walls give the King the likelihood of closing it soon. The devout nuns young and old, two intelligent friars, and the man who saves Joanna from the crowds at a horrific burning in London, fill the story with humanity, making it not only a terrific mystery and thriller but the tale of rather ordinary people struggling to preserve their ancient good ways. Joanna grows in strength of character as the book develops until at the end she is a little shining star: brilliant, resourceful, loving, protective, and all one could wish and more from a 1538 heroine. Nor is her sincere vocation entirely without possible romance: two young men lurk by who could be more than friends to her in the years to come. Ah, but which one?

Joanna's adventures will happily continue in a new book and I intend to pre-order it!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Historical Suspense, January 10, 2012
This review is from: The Crown (Joanna Stafford) (Hardcover)
When THE CROWN begins, young Dominican novice, Joanna Stafford, has just broken the strict rule of enclosure of her priory to attend the public burning of her beloved cousin, Lady Margaret, for treason against King Henry VIII. Determined to provide comfort and prayer to her cousin, even if just from afar, Joanna embarks on a journey that she is ill-prepared for in all aspects.

The unexpected intervention of Joanna's father leads to their arrest, and they are sent to the Tower of London to await their fate. When the scheming Bishop of Winchester hears of Joanna's imprisonment and station at Dartford Priory, she suddenly becomes of use to him. He threatens to torture her father to death unless she helps him find the ancient crown of Athelstan that he tells her will change the political landscape of the country and save the monasteries from Cromwell's destruction.

Upon Joanna's return to Dartford, she becomes a pawn in a game played by powerful, greedy men. When secrets, schemes, and murder taint the priory, Joanna is forced to confront her beliefs and make difficult choices in order to save her father and her way of life.

THE CROWN is every bit as exciting and suspenseful as the jacket copy and descriptions promised. Bilyeau kept me turning pages and second guessing my predictions late into the three nights it took me to devour it. Joanna is an incredibly endearing character. Her internal struggles to maintain obedience while satisfying her curiosity and doing what she thinks is right make for excellent tension and story development. The supporting cast of monks, novices, detectives, and politicians is every bit as fascinating as Joanna, and their personal stories and contributions to the plot provide many layers of intrigue. In addition to the masterfully drawn plot and interesting characters, the prose is compulsively readable and stylish, and will satisfy the spectrum of readers who love history, suspense, and literature.

If you enjoy books by Philippa Gregory and Ken Follett, I highly recommend THE CROWN. It is an outstanding debut by a talented writer, and I was thrilled to find out that Ms. Bilyeau is working on a sequel to the novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars - A Mediocre Read, July 31, 2012
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This review is from: The Crown (Joanna Stafford) (Hardcover)
Purchased: 3˝ stars/5 stars

BAH! To say that I have struggled with this book and review doesn't even get me into the ball park. My mom recommended this book to me and rarely, especially where historical fiction is concerned, is my mom wrong about a book. But I have to admit, in this instance mom led me a just a teeny tiny bit astray. Sorry, Mom '

If I break The Crown into thirds, I really did enjoy the first and the final third of the book. The middle third that caused me all the difficulty. The book opens with Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun having broken her vows so that she may be present when her oldest and dearest childhood friend is being burned at the stake for defying King Henry VIII. Little does Joanna know her little show of loyalty will actually land her in the Tower and at the mercy of one of England's most heinous and power-hungry clergymen. In order to secure her release from the Tower and insure the safety of her still-imprisoned father, Joanna agrees to return to her priory in order to re-take her place among the good sisters and find a legendary crown that will help bring the end of Henry VIII's and his henchman Cromwell's suppression of England's religious houses.

In the middle third of the book Joanna is doing her best to fulfill her mission and searches throughout the priory for the elusive crown. As she searches, Joanna is also brought into a variety of other circumstances and situations that threaten to derail her mission at every turn. While the plot certainly advances in this section of the book, it does so at a painfully slow pace. Who knew fact-gathering and sleuthing could be so damn dull?? Had I not called my mother to complain about this, I would have never gotten to the end of the novel. My mother assured me that I needed to keep reading, get through the middle section, and then enjoy the conclusion of the story. Thanks, Mom, that helped!

In my mom's defense, it actually was good advice and the conclusion of The Crown was really quite good. Like the first third of the book, the last third really picks up the pace and moves like it means it. Everything in which Joanna has been involved, up to this point, comes to a head and her sleuthing and fact-finding pays off. Not only does Joanna solve one mystery, she solves two, is reunited with her father, and discovers her life as a Dominican nun may not be all there is for her in the world. The conclusion is actually quite satisfying and leaves the reader with the impression that, while this portion of Joanna's life is indeed over, her story is far from being complete.

Joanna, as a character, is one of The Crown's greatest strengths. Joanna is both a woman of her time and a woman far ahead of her time. As for being a product of her time, Joanna is a devout Catholic in a time when religion dominated all aspects of life. Furthermore, Joanna is a faithful and loyal individual who cares deeply for those closest to her, her fellow sisters, her family, and her Church. As for being a woman ahead of her time, 1) Joanna is very well-educated thanks to her forward-thinking father, 2) she is outspoken even when she knows the "rules" of her time and place demand she be seen and not heard, and 3) she is courageous often beyond all sense and reason. Even in the slowest part of the novel, watching Joanna work and deal with all that she finds is fascinating. While I can't say I connected with her on a personal or emotional level, I was interested in Joanna and how her story would play out. Also, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about that silly crown.

Bottom line: I am glad I read this book. It fed my need and my love of historical fiction, but I can't see recommending this book to just anyone. This book does take some patience (of which I have very little), but it is worth it in the end. Joanna Stafford is an excellent character, and a few other minor characters were quite intriguing, but these characters just weren't quite enough to allow me to ignore the slowness of the middle third of the book. If you have spare time, are extremely patient, or are just OK with taking your time reading a book, then I highly recommend The Crown. The plot is good, the writing style is fine, and the historical aspects are interesting.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Suspense and mystery in Tudor-era England, January 14, 2012
This review is from: The Crown (Joanna Stafford) (Hardcover)
Set against a Tudor backdrop, The Crown is a surprisingly enjoyable and thrilling historical mystery that explores the religious upheaval during Henry VIII's reign, and the people who were affected by it. At first glance, I wondered how a story about an aristocratic nun could be interesting, especially set in such a juicy period, but The Crown amazed me with its intriguing twists, unexpected plot, and unique hero.

The Crown follows the story of Joanna Stafford, a young nun from an aristocratic family, who learns that her favorite cousin is to be burned at the stake. Joanna defies her vows and sets out to help her cousin. That's when she is imprisoned in the Tower of London and meets the dangerous Bishop Gardiner, who has his own designs on Joanna's future. In exchange for her freedom, he sends Joanna to Dartford Priory to search for Athelstan's crown, a powerful relic that might grant eternal life -and, hopefully, end the Reformation.

Incredibly well-written and intricately researched, the Crown is an amazing piece of historical fiction that stands out from the rest of the genre. Joanna is a unique and fascinating protagonist, somewhat torn between her faith and her duty to her family, and most importantly -incredibly intelligent and cunning. The period is just as well constructed, with plenty of detail and a vivid depiction of life in a convent during a time of serious religious unrest.

The Crown offers plenty great Church lore, and an engaging mystery that's reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code, complete with just a whiff of the supernatural. Probably the only small issue I had with this book was that the action is somewhat uneven. At times things really slowed down, so much that it felt laborious to keep going, but I soldiered through and was rewarded with a worthwhile mystery.

Not for romance lovers, The Crown is an incredibly engaging historical mystery for fans of conspiracies, intelligent female protagonists, and Church lore. And it looks like it may be only the first of a series of novels about Joanna Stafford -so more to look forward to.
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The Crown (Joanna Stafford)
The Crown (Joanna Stafford) by Nancy Bilyeau (Hardcover - January 10, 2012)
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