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The Chalice: A Novel (Joanna Stafford series) Paperback – March 18, 2014
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"Bilyeau sends her plucky former novice back into the intrigue-laden court of Henry VIII." (Entertainment Weekly)
“The novel is riveting, and provides fascinating insight into the lives of displaced nuns and priests during the tumultuous Tudor period. Bilyeau creates fully realized characters, with complex actions and emotions, driving the machinations of these historic personages.” (RT Book Reviews, (Top Pick))
“English history buffs and mystery fans alike will revel in Nancy Bilyeau's richly detailed sequel to The Crown.” (Parade.com)
"[A] layered book of historical suspense." (Kirkus Reviews)
“I loved the story, the characters and the rich detail of the novel. . . . So much emotion and drama, and surprise twists for even the most hard-to-please mystery fans!” (DuJour Magazine)
"Bilyeau paints a moving portrait of Catholicism during the Reformation and of reclusive, spiritual people adjusting to the world outside the cloister. This intriguing and suspenseful historical novel pairs well with C. J. Sansom’s Dissolution (2003) and has the insightful feminine perspective of Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s The Heretic’s Wife (2010)." (Booklist)
"Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII's reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed." (C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen's Vow)
"Superbly set in the political and religious turmoil between Henry VIII's queens Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, The Chalice is a dark, twisty thriller that I couldn't put down. Nancy Bilyeau's extensive historical research makes the sense of dread, danger, and mysticism permeating this era tangible. Ex-Dominican novice Joanna Stafford is an especially compelling and sympathetic heroine—I adored her!" (Kris Waldherr, author of Doomed Queens)
"An exciting and satisfying novel of historical suspense that cements Nancy Bilyeau as one of the genre's rising stars. The indominable Joanna Stafford is back with a cast of powerful and fascinating characters and a memorable story that is gripping while you are reading and haunting after you are done. Bravo! The Chalice is a fabulous read." (M.J. Rose, author of The Reincarnationist)
"The Chalice offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England's most powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner, and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don't let you go even after the last exciting page." (Karen Harper, author of Mistress of Mourning)
About the Author
Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown and The Chalice, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. She is currently the executive editor of Du Jour magazine. A native of the Midwest, she lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Visit her website at NancyBilyeau.com.
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Joanna watches as her Catholic relatives are arrested for high treason. A mysterious prophecy from her childhood reveals itself. Will Joanna be able to defend the her religion and keep her faith intact during this era?
This book is the second in a series, although it can be read as a stand alone. The characters are well developed and the plot and story line are enchanting. It is interesting to read fiction told from a Catholic point of view during the English Reformation. Ms. Bilyeau has done a tremendous deal of research and The Chalice and it's characters will captivate you from the first chapter. This is one of the best books I have ever read. I eagerly await the third book in this series.
This complex story has multiple twists and turns that were unpredictable and fun to read. The future of England and the Catholic Church is no more predictable than Joanna's love life. As a woman who had planned to spend her life as a Bride of Christ, she is confused by her conflicting feelings for the handsome and daring Geoffrey Scoville and the pious Edmund Sommerville.
Though Joanna hopes to refocus her life on a tapestry business that she believes will help her recreate the atmosphere of Dartford while giving her a means of support, she is once again drawn into a complex conspiracy that has the potential to change the future of the country. Prophesies, alliances, and faith all come into play as Joanna must decide if her fate has been sealed or if she can break free of expectations and do what she knows is right.
I enjoyed being introduced to the Courtenays and Henry Pole in this book. The executions that were ordered in response to the so-called Exeter Conspiracy are just one piece of evidence that Joanna must weigh in determining whether or not it would be morally right for her to join the plotting against her anointed king.
The historical detail, wonderful descriptions of people and places, and an adventurous plot combined to make this a captivating 5-star read. I am eager to continue Joanna's story in The Tapestry.
When her cousin Henry Courtenay, the powerful Marquess of Exeter, and his wife Gertrude appear in Dartford, begging Joanna for a visit, she agrees, little dreaming that by allying herself with the Courtenays she draws ever closer to the epicenter of a plot determined to bring Henry VIII to his knees and restore the true Catholic faith to England. Although Joanna assiduously strives to bury the horrific memory of disgraced and executed Sister Elizabeth Barton's claim that she is inextricably tied to the very future of England, Gertrude becomes obsessed with Joanna's alleged prophetic role in restoring England as a Catholic nation or risking Henry -- now on the hunt for his fourth wife -- securing reformist rule with the birth of a second prince. Grieving the once-bright promise of her lost life at Dartford Priory, Joanna is tempted to agree -- but fears the repercussions of associating herself with those who dabble in forbidden sorcery. Caught up in an intricate web engineered by power-hungry foreign kings, Joanna finds herself at a crossroads -- accept the prophecy and become its pawn, or embrace the uncertainty of her future and follow the dictates of her conscience, no matter the cost. And on her decision and resolve rests no less than the future of a nation and the very life of its king...
The Chalice was tasked with following an amazing predecessor, as The Crown is one of the best books I've read this year and one of the best debuts I've read, ever. And on balance, Bilyeau's sophomore offering delivers. She continues to illuminate lesser-known corners of Tudor England's history -- as through Joanna's eyes, we stand witness to the utter devastation that comes from the destruction of an entire way of life built on a faith and its practices centuries old. Where in The Crown Joanna's priory was still intact, and as a result the events of her search for the legendary Athelstan crown felt relatively contained, in The Chalice the protective boundaries surrounding Joanna's life have been stripped away, leaving her more vulnerable than ever to the pull of the aristocratic life she had once forsworn.
I'm left with mixed feelings about Joanna's character arc following this installment. Where her initial introduction showcased a vibrant, determined, intelligent woman of faith, here Joanna is anchor-less and understandably angry -- an anger that oft-times blinds her to sound advice, leaving her vulnerable to the negative affects of foolish, willful pride. While Bilyeau does an excellent job articulating Joanna's completely understandable grief, anger, and frustration at being forced to make a life for herself without the guidance of the conviction and rule of a monastic life, I wish it had been balanced with a bit more of the savvy survival skills she exhibits while still a novice. Her repeated rejection of help, familial or otherwise, particularly when offered by the (utterly irresistible) Geoffrey Scovill was grating at best and infuriating at worst. But while Joanna may have been maddening, the delicious, unrequited tension Geoffrey possesses for her -- and her maddening denial of the same -- powerfully speaks to Bilyeau's ability to pen fiery, memorable characters.
The Chalice is saturated with the history of the time period, gracefully illuminating the tension between the Catholic "old guard" and the heady pull of reform faith. Neither side is perfect or blameless, and Bilyeau does a masterful job of articulating the passionately held beliefs on each side of the religious schism threatening to split England in two. Joanna's second "quest" is every bit as fascinating and historically detailed as her first, but lacks some of the focus and intensity that characterized her search for the Athelstan crown. While Joanna's attempts to understand the prophecy that has haunted her life makes for compelling reading, it isn't until the novel's final act that the role of the chalice is revealed. The premise, particularly in how it is tied to Henry's unhappy union with Anne of Cleves, is a fascinating one, and the perfect illustration of Bilyeau's mastery in weaving fact and fiction. I just wish there had been some way to balance the mystery of the prophecies with the intrigue and political machinations surrounding Henry's fourth marriage.
Though The Chalice didn't have quite the level of finesse present in its sterling predecessor, it is nonetheless a worthy follow-up to Joanna and her search to find place and fulfillment in a world that, by her standards, has gone mad. A slow-burning thriller rich in atmosphere and historical detail, Bilyeau has a gift for bringing the attitudes and mores of the time period to vibrant life. Joanna's world is peppered with characters both fascinating and maddening in turns, but always sharply realized on the page. Joanna and her dangerous dance between forces both secular and religious is an intoxicating formula. Coupled with Bilyeau's sterling research and undeniable affinity for the time period, The Chalice is a satisfying entry in Joanna's life that leaves me more anxious than ever for the next glimpse -- its sequel (and with it, hopefully more page time for the heartbreaking Geoffrey!) cannot come quickly enough!