Are you drawn to historical novels surrounding the steamy and intrigue-laden court of Henry VIII? You’re not alone. Many readers delight in books from this time period where drama unfolds at every dark corner and crevice!
So how does an author make a book stand out from a sea of Tudor-mania? I’m sure this was a challenge for Tudor-era fanatic and author Nancy Bilyeau in endeavoring to write her novels. In The Chalice (a known sequel to her popular The Crown, but really stands-alone quite well), she writes of the same era in history, but from the perspective of Joanna Stafford, a woman of noble birth and connections who was also pious and dedicated to the Catholic church being a former nun (novice). In her writing, Bilyeau delves into how the transition from England being ruled from Catholic perspective to Protestant, and the bloody fighting and paranoia it caused, confused the entire country, especially the nobles who were strong in faith but also wanted to regard their King (he was divine after all and God-ordained) without falter or question. How did the outskirts, beyond the castle walls, really handle the transformation? How did those of faith deal with priories and convents being dissolved?
Don’t let Joanna being a pious individual dissuade you from thinking this book is lacking pulse-pounding drama because it most certainly is full of hold-your-breath moments! It was never a dull moment and I disliked when I needed to put it down due to other life demands! I couldn’t wait to pick it up again, just in time to reveal another plot twist or another piece to unraveling the riddle. (review continued after synopsis)
Here’s the synopsis for The Chalice~
In the next novel from Nancy Bilyeau after her acclaimed debut The Crown, novice Joanna Stafford plunges into an even more dangerous conspiracy as she comes up against some of the most powerful men of her era.
In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last.
Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies…
Sounds full of intrigue and page turning drama, right??
Though the novel didn’t take place at court, it showcased how court drama and governance carries around the countryside as families jockey for favor or position and conspire at a moment’s notice to fight for their lives. Anyone that knows of Henry Tudor (Henry the VIII) knows that he was impulsive and could make rash and unjustified decisions out of his own fears. He would judge entire families on an extended family member’s wrong-doing and, as his father before him, tended to kill off entire family branches to fortify his own royal legacy.
Even though Joanna and her extended family were in constant fear for their lives, she had a bond with Mary Tudor that would help to serve her through some sticky situations. But with that bond, as well as her own to the Catholic church, she is most easily aghast over Henry VIII’s desecration and desire to wipe out all monasteries, sacred relics, and bones of Saints. Then, when a prophecy is foretold that involves her, she struggles to rebel against it. Being a good Catholic, she strongly believes that prophecy and seers are wrong in the eyes of God. She does not want to believe that she could be a part of such dealings, but struggles to know if the greater good outweighs the risk.
I loved the book’s emotional tender moments when Joanna was overcome with human emotions for others in the book, for instance, when she mulled over her feelings for various male characters, all whom in some regard seemed to be smitten by her and feel a need to protect her. Yet there were boundaries to all relationships in regards to love and Bilyeau walked a fine line of pulling the reader into the moment of impulsive exploratory action and then whisking them away from it, just enough for us to feel the character’s internal anguish. In all, she teaches us her characters fortitude and strength (and self-control), most often through protagonist Joanna. She’s an amazingly strong woman who was too modest to see her own attributes.
My favorite supporting character in the book was Henry Courtenay, Marchess of Exeter, who had less “print time” than most, but I loved his demeanor. There were times in the book I felt on pins and needles, times I was holding my breath and then exhaling in relief, and other times (especially a particular time) that I cried for the horror.
I love the prophetic mystery within the novel and the clues filled with symbolism that heightened as I turned each chapter. The novel was most certainly full of intrigue, but quite in a different format than what I’ve read from most other Tudor-era writers. It’s drama-filled, but stemming from a protagonist so laden with religious adherence that the drama seems almost stumbled upon because she wants so badly to not be a part of the drama. But her heart tells her different and she finds her destiny. It read like a Dan Brown novel with a strong female lead and who doesn’t love a nun on a mission? Any reader will want to take on the prophecy of Joanna, whether to see if it’s a true outcome or to prove it wrong. Bilyeau always leaves that question up to the reader, as Joanna struggles with that same dilemma herself.
Being a journalist and editor, Bilyeau’s writing style is succinct and not heavily flowered with extra, unwarranted details. Her research skills and plot points are highly polished and shine through in this work making it a thriller for any must-read list.
I highly recommend Nancy Bilyeau’s The Chalice (and her former The Crown) for its unique presentation of a widely written about Tudor time period, her strong and memorable Joanna and well-developed supporting cast, her suspenseful riddles and exciting prophetic plot, and most of all, her page-turning literary skills.
Please stop back tomorrow for an exclusive interview with the fantastic author Nancy Bilyeau!
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Touchstone Publishing/A Divison of Simon and Schuster
We have one (1) print copy of the The Chalice to give to a lucky reader this week! Please leave a comment, with email (for notification purposes ONLY) , here or on my Facebook post, to enter! You may also email me to email@example.com.
Please enter by 11:59 p.m. EST on March 26, 2013. Open to the United States only and no P.O. boxes.
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Praise for The Chalice
“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 and The Tudor Secret
“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
“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
Nancy Bilyeau, Biography~
Nancy Bilyeau, author of critically acclaimed The Crown, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. Her latest position is features editor of Du Jour magazine. A native of the Midwest, she graduated from the University of Michigan. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children. For more information, please visit Nancy Bilyeau’s webiste at www.nancybilyeau.com.
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