There I was on the first of the month eagerly anticipating my February challenge – to read five books from the BBC’s Big Read – when Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel, The Crown, arrived in the post. Not wanting to wait until I had a reading gap, I curled up with a hot chocolate and began.
Described as a Tudor-era religious thriller, The Crown has the perfect ingredients needed for a stunning debut. Bilyeau’s self-proclaimed ‘inexhaustible interest’ in the Tudor era formed the basis for The Crown, and the novel is a clear illustration of the author’s knowledge of this bygone era.
Set during the reign of Henry VIII, The Crown follows protagonist Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun of Spanish descent who, following the execution of her cousin, is sent on a quest by the Bishop of Winchester to find the Athelstan Crown, an ancient relic so powerful it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. An evocative tale, The Crown showcases Bilyeau’s wonderfully descriptive passages and her choice to use a Catholic novice as the heroine lends a strong narrative to the novel.
The Tudor backdrop provides a poignant platform from which Bilyeau expertly crafts a powerful story fusing religion, history, deceit and betrayal. The characters are multi-layered and compelling and the plot, weaved with extensive historical detail throughout, is both haunting and heart-wrenching. Just over 400 pages long, Bilyeau’s novel is a gripping debut and the perfect accompaniment to a cold winter’s night.