Author’s name: Nancy Bilyeau
Publisher: Orion Books
Price in sterling: £12.99
Joanna Stafford is a member of a family distrusted by King Henry VII because of their refusal to accept his Reformation of the Church. A novice nun, she escapes enclosure at Dartford Priory to attend the execution of her cousin who has been found guilty of heresy. She is found out and imprisoned for months, until a meeting with Bishop Stephen Gardiner throws her into the full maelstrom of the religious and political turmoil of the Reformation.
Stories surrounding King Henry VIII, his wives and the Reformation are plentiful but what makes Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel so different, is that it is just that – different!
You are instantly shown the sheer horror of the time of the Reformation when the Church of England was usurping the Catholic faith that had been the dominant religion for five hundred years. The fear that Catholics felt for wishing to practise their faith is demonstrated so clearly in the first few pages that you are instantly connected to the heroine, Joanna Stafford. The descriptions and prose are eloquent and tight; not a spare word appears in the whole novel, making it a hugely satisfying read.
I understand the fascination many historical fiction enthusiasts have with the Tudor period, but Nancy Bilyeau writes with a grace that sets this novel far above many I have read. Her research is impeccable, but the addition of a folklore element to the plot brings a perilous dimension to this period of religious fear. Bilyeau’s characters are fully formed and you root for the goodies and hope evil things happen to the baddies. The whole product is created to the highest standard; the plot creation, the characters, the editing, the research, everything is immaculately polished.
I have given “The Crown” 5 Crosses as this debut novel is a refreshing addition to the saturated "Henry VIII" genre and I cannot wait for the next instalment in Joanna Stafford’s adventures.
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