Now that we are into 'reading season', most people can find me sitting around with a book practically glued to my hands. Not only have I been re-reading some beloved classics, but new titles beckon me with their tempting cover art and saucy one-line blurbs.
But beyond the cover art, the book has to be good. It has to really deliver, keeping me firmly in place on the sofa or hot bath. It has to make me forget to make dinner, or fold the laundry. Sometimes, it has to make me late for work. Those are the stories that make us feel sad when we finally get to the last page.
'The Crown', written by Nancy Bilyeau, is such a book. Not only is it interesting and jam-packed with information, but is written with great skill. Not a mere 'knock off' of the genre.
It reminded me of Ellis Peters' wonderful 'Brother Cadfael' series.
The story takes place in London in 1537. Henry VIII is on the throne and eagerly awaiting the birth of his third child, hoping it will be the male heir that he has been expecting. But Henry has been busy elsewhere, too. After his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, he begins to plunder and then destroy the bastions of Catholic faith, the monasteries and priories of England. With the aid of Cromwell, many of those serving the Church are thrown out onto the streets to fend for themselves. Many are tortured and killed for defending their faith.
Joanna Stafford, a high-born young woman and now a Dominican novice serving in Dartford Priory, has run away to London to comfort a beloved cousin who is to be burned at the stake for treason. But Joanna and her father are soon arrested and held in the Tower of London, where he is tortured. In order to rescue her father, Joanna agrees to search for a sacred relic, a crown which came from the time of one of the first English kings, but is now hidden somewhere in the Priory. Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester and the leader of the faction trying to save the monasteries, believes that the crown has the power to halt the Reformation.
With Brother Edmund and Brother Richard by her side, Joanna searches high and low, finding clues in the unlikeliest places. But her greatest discovery is that no one can be trusted.
Written with great care, Ms. Bilyeau has composed a story that not only kept me turning pages, but also enlightened me. The characters are beautifully realized, but it was Joanna, the savvy heroine, who made me hope that the author will write another book about her.
Due to be published January 12, 2012