Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau (Review and Giveaway!)

The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau
Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1476708652
Published: March 5, 2013
Trade Paperback,  512 pages

It is 1538 England. The bloody turmoil between Henry VIII and the monasteries continues. Joanna Stafford, novice of Dartford Priory, that we met in Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel, The Crown, is once again involved in a mystery, this time involving an international plot against the King.

The Catholic monasteries have been abolished; Joanna is raising her 5-year-old ward, and attempting to lead a normal life by weaving and selling beautiful tapestries. There is a love triangle of Geoffrey Scovill, now constable of Dartford town where Joanna lives, “Brother” Edmund, a former monk, and Joanna. She decides on Edmund and they are to marry, but a quiet, family life is not to be. 

An edict forbids former religious people - nuns, priors, friars, priests to marry. Then, travel to London exposes Joanna to the limelight once again as she begins having unexplained visions and hearing voices (or so she thinks) that remind her of prophecies concerning her. She is brought to a seer who tells her that she has a crucial role to play in the future of the kingdom and Christendom – but what is it? What is she expected to do? Intent on finding out, Joanna travels to Ghent, Belgium to meet a third seer who finally reveals the meaning of the prophecy. Joanna is to poison Henry using a special chalice! 

The character of aristocratic, religious Joanna is well developed. She is a strong woman who prefers a quiet, contemplative life serving God in a priory. However, she is willing to risk imprisonment and possible torture as she assumes her responsibility to king and country, while being pitted against some of the most powerful men of her time.

This is very good historical fiction combined with a religious mystery. The reader learns about Henry’s court, the infamous Tower, ladies in waiting, religious struggles as the Reformation continues, and religious devotion of the time. The description of daily life in a small English village rounds out the atmosphere of the 1500’s. Anne of Cleves, Henry the VIII’s 4th wife makes an appearance in the story as does Mary Tudor, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester (Joanna’s nemesis in The Crown) and Emperor Charles.

I love the descriptions the author uses, such as “her face was crisscrossed with faint lines, like delicate parchment paper left too long on a table, unused.” 

I found the story overly long and somewhat confusing at times as I struggled to understand the complicated code about the prophecy, but all in all it is worthwhile reading for historical fiction fans. 

Note: This book is rated C = clean read, although there are some religious expletives.

About the author:
Nancy Bilyeau, author of 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.

You can learn more about her on

Reviewed by Sandra

Disclosure: Thanks to the publisher and Amy Bruno from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.

And now for the giveaway!


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