Author: Nancy Bilyeau
Genre: Fiction (Tudor / Reformation / 16th century / Nuns / Religious Conspiracy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Touchstone Publishing (1/10/2012)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: Liked immensely/basically loved.
Did I finish?: I did -- zoomed through this one without stop!
Reading Challenges: E-books, Historical Fiction, NetGalley
Do I like the cover?: I love it. Even though it sort of has a The DaVinci Code-ish feel to it, I find it striking and unusual for a Tudor-set hist fic.
I'm reminded of...: Mary Doria Russell
First line: When a burning is announced, the taverns off Smithfeld order extra barrels of ale, but when the person to be executed is a woman and one of noble birth, the ale comes by the cartload.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this one is worth getting. History, action, unique take on a popularly novelized time, and great storytelling.
Why did I get this book?: The cover, plus I love novels with nuns.
Review: I dare you to read the first sentence and not want to keep going. From that oomph of a beginning, Bilyeau's fantastically fun and engrossing historical novel takes what is an overdone era (for me) -- the Tudors -- and provides a fun angle: the story of a noblewoman-turned-nun who finds herself an enemy of the state when Henry VIII declares himself head of the Church. At the novel's open, she's left her convent -- without permission -- to attend the public execution of her beloved cousin, and finds herself embroiled in both a battle for her faith and a fight for a legendary relic. While this has shades of Dan Brown, I didn't find this plot twist to be tiresome or over-the-top: it was the right mix of mystery and thriller.
Bilyeau's writing is the winner for me: her characters were fantastic and the pacing wonderful. In particular, I found her articulation of Joanna's faith understandable, even if one isn't a devout Catholic. Despite the religious theme to the plot, this novel isn't inspirational. (I think more Mary Doria Russell than Rumor Godden.)
Even if you're suffering Tudor fatigue like me, give this novel a try -- I loved the focus on the religious community and Henry and his sexual shenanigans aren't a part of the story the way much of the Tudor fic is. The novel's heroine, Joanna Stafford, was wonderful -- human, real, authentic to the era and herself, and quite compelling. She's made the list of fictional character I'd like to have as a real life bestie.
A wonderfully fun debut -- treat yourself and pick this one up, especially if you're a historical fiction fan. I understand there's a second Joanna Stafford novel coming, for which I am deeply grateful. Joanna is a heroine I want to spend more time with and I'm wicked excited for Bilyeau's next novel.
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Crown to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only. Ends 3/9. Be sure to return on Feb 27 for my interview with the author and another chance to enter!
See more reviews by checking out the other blogs on the tour. Learn more about Nancy Bilyeau at her website, and follow her on Twitter. Follow the tour on Twitter with the #TheCrownVirtualBookTour hashtag!