Bilyeau’s debut tackles the fracas that ensued when King Henry VIII began persecuting Catholics and other groups he saw as a threat to his reign. Joanna Stafford, a novice nun from a fallen noble family, defies the rules of her convent and travels to London to bear witness to the burning at the stake of her favorite cousin, Margaret, who has been convicted of treason. At the execution, Joanna encounters her father, who hastens Margaret’s death with gunpowder. Father and daughter are taken to the infamous Tower of London, where Joanna is held for months until an ambitious bishop, Stephen Gardiner, threatens her father with torture and death unless Joanna returns to her priory on a covert mission to retrieve a possibly apocryphal royal crown purported to be hidden on priory grounds. Despite Bilyeau’s intriguing main story line, the narrative becomes sidetracked by a subplot involving Lord Chester, the boorish father of the priory’s Sister Christina. Unfortunately, stock crazy characters and some glaring plot holes derail a promising story about one woman’s love for God and family. (Jan.)
Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.
While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.
With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.
An engrossing thriller…[the] extensive historical research shines.” – Entertainment Weekly
“Part The Da Vinci Code, part The Other Boleyn Girl, it will keep you guessing until the very end!” – Woman’s Day, Book Pick of the Month
“Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical research throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy, and betrayal.” – O, The Oprah Magazine
“[An] inventive thriller…A captivating heroine, Stafford will have you eagerly following every step of her quest.” – Parade
“[A] captivating thriller.” – All You
“The right sort of action to lure fans of historical fiction: righteous nuns, evil bishops, real-world figures and a potential burning at the stake.” – Time Out New York
“When her cousin is condemned to death by King Henry VIII, daring young nun Joanna risks everything to be by her side.” – People Magazine
“History buffs will delight in the details interwoven in the story.” – Times Record News
“I’m loving ‘The Crown.’” – Redbook
“Bilyeau weaves her breathtaking story though a string of events to a pleasing conclusion while giving the reader a more thorough understanding of a complicated bit of history. Historical fiction as it should be.” – Florida Times-Union
A must read...Part The Da Vinci Code, part The Other Boleyn Girl, it will keep you guessing until the very end! Book Pick of the Month
All the ingredients for a thriller: murder, violence, intrigue, sex, and religious fanatics.
Strong character development, realistic historical detail, and an atmosphere of pervasive tension coupled to a fast-paced plot make it compulsively readable.
Novitiate Joanna breaks her vows to leave her cloister and come to the aid of her cousin Margaret, convicted of treason against King Henry VII and sentenced to hang. Joanna is subsequently thrown into the Tower of London with her father and released with a secret mission—return to her priory and find a legendary, mystical relic for the bishop. If she succeeds, her father will be freed as well; until then, he will be tortured to ensure her compliance. Along the way, Joanna is assisted by a handsome constable and a somber monk, both with hidden agendas and secret passions. VERDICT Debut author Bilyeau promises a historical thriller with suspense, intrigue, and mystery—the delivery, however, is sometimes lacking. While the plot is compelling, the author drags out her story with multiple, concurrent subplots. This book will appeal to fans of Dan Brown and Philippa Gregory, if they can dedicate themselves to the 400-plus pages.—Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL
Bilyeau's venture into Tudor territory veers away from Henry VIII to explore a more obscure aspect of his reign, the dismantling of England's monasteries and convents. A young noblewoman, Joanna Stafford, is brought by her father to Dartford Priory, where she enters the novitiate. Soon thereafter, thanks to a foolhardy attempt to render aid to her condemned cousin Margaret, Joanna and her father are confined to the Tower, where they languish for several months. Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, engineers Joanna's release and return to Dartford, but not without extracting from her a terrible admission: concealed somewhere at the priory is a sacred relic, the Crown of King Athelstan, England's last great Saxon monarch. Her father will remain in the Tower until Joanna locates and secures the Crown for Gardiner, who, he says, intends to use its mysterious power to, somehow, thwart King Henry's rampage against Roman Catholicism and its religious orders. Accompanying Joanna to Dartford are two other agents of the Bishop, the recently dispossessed Dominican friars Brother Richard and Brother Edmund. Back at Dartford, Joanna's search for the Crown yields no clues, until a visitor, Lord Chester, drunkenly spots a telling tapestry and collapses in terror. Sometime that night Chester is murdered. Brother Edmond is accused, but cleared when Lady Chester leaves a suicide note confessing her own guilt. When Henry's operatives appear at Dartford it is clear that Cromwell, Henry's chief minister and Gardiner's sworn enemy, is aware of the Athelstan Crown's existence; its links to Charlemagne and Christ himself; and its unique proclivity: to bring invincibility to anyone of royal blood who is pure, and death to anyone who is not. Only when Richard, Edmund and Joanna join forces can they trace the legend of Athelstan to its roots in another monastery, but their faith and trust in the Bishop known as Wily Winchester will be severely tested. This fast-paced debut delivers Tudor intrigue and mystical thrills in one satisfying package—and leaves room for a sequel.