Thursday, March 14, 2013
Blog Tour Review: The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau
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…
Having really enjoyed Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel The Crown, I couldn't wait to see what was next for former novice-turned-spy Joanna Stafford. When The Chalice begins Joanna is struggling a bit in transitioning into secular life now that the monasteries and priories have been dissolved and Henry VIII has effectively eliminated the role of the Catholic church. She's determined to build a life in the village of Dartford, close to her beloved priory, and close to the two men in her life who have become more than friends: constable Geoffrey Scovill and former friar Edmund Sommerville. But Joanna is of noble birth, niece to the executed Duke of Buckingham, cousin to the Duchess of Norfolk, and cousin to the Marquess and Marchioness of Exeter, and her family arrives unexpectedly, asking her to come back and take her place in the world she was born to.
Though they promise her she won't have to return to the dreaded court she despises, they have ulterior motives in bringing Joanna back into their world. Thanks to her service to Katherine of Aragon, her mother's Spanish heritage, her friendship with the Lady Mary Tudor, and her own devout Catholic faith, she's the perfect pawn in a plot to save Christendom from the whims of a tyrannical king. Struggling to adapt to her new lifestyle and her status in society and her interactions with the nobles of the realm, Joanna is drawn into a dangerous game involving international spies, necromancers and seers, and the political maneuverings of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as Henry VIII prepares to welcome his fourth bride, Anne of Cleves. Torn between her duty to God and to family, and to a king whose destructive policies have upended her life, Joanna is forced to play her part and see the treasonous plan through to its conclusion to protect her loved ones, even if it means her death.
Just about the only drawback for me in The Crown was the pacing and some slow periods that had me skimming forward to the action, but The Chalice suffers from no such ailment! It's non-stop from beginning to end, with one plot twist after another, and I could not put it down. Nancy Bilyeau has meticulously researched the time period and it comes to life in her hands as she weaves Joanna in and out of the factions of Henry VIII's court, where intrigues, plots, and suspicions abound, where fortunes can change at the drop of an ax, and where no one is safe from the ambitions of those closest to a changeable king. The Chalice is superbly written; Nancy Bilyeau's style is effortless and she has a talent for crafting sophisticated, intellectual, and exciting historical thrillers.
There's no doubt Joanna Stafford is one of the more memorable and interesting characters I've come across in Tudor fiction, and while she was given the freedom to really grow and come into her own in this story, I didn't always agree with the decisions she made. Sometimes I wished I could reach through the pages and shake some sense into Joanna, but she was always true to herself and what she believed in, and I can appreciate a character's ability to make me care so much that I get angry with her when she doesn't do what I want her to do! At the end of The Crown I lamented the state of Joanna's love life, and I'm still lamenting it at the end of The Chalice, though not for lack of development and some really emotional turns of events. Poor Joanna. Is everything ever just going to fall into place for her so she can live a normal life? I'm hoping we'll find out in the next book in the series. Joanna has made some powerful enemies, but she has also made some interesting friendships, and I have a feeling her relationship with poor little Catherine Howard will be taking center stage very soon. This series is a must-read not only for Tudor fans, but for all fans of top-notch historical fiction.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
The Chalice is on a blog tour! Nancy Bilyeau will be here tomorrow with an interview and a giveaway! Click here to view the entire tour schedule with more reviews and more chances to win!