Nancy Bilyeau captures this dramatic period in brilliant colors in her 2012 novel, the Simon and Schuster title “The Crown.” Bilyeau tells the story of an aristocratic Dominican novice who is blackmailed into helping a shady bishop find an ancient relic that is rumored to be hidden in her endangered community and is believed to have the power to reverse the course of the Reformation. While her father languishes in the
Bilyeau uses exceptional storytelling craft in building suspense in this, her first novel. She tells the story in the first person through Sister Joanna Stafford, an intelligent, determined young woman who is serious in her commitment to the religious life but also attuned to the political crosswinds of her time. Bilyeau has clearly done deep historical research, and, though she has characters speak in more of a modern-feeling than Chaucerian English, they voice sentiments that feel authentic to the Age of Tudor. The characterizations are vivid, especially the nuns of Dartford Priory, depicted as strong, independent women managing their own self-sufficient community without need for men—a feminist undercurrent that pervades the story.
Rest assured that none of it feels antiquarian, polemic, or pedantic—it’s simply a well-written story that envelopes you like a good motion picture, boding well for Bilyeau's “The Chalice,” due to be published next month (http://www.nancybilyeau.com/chalice.html). Clearly, she is a promising fresh talent in historical fiction.