Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review: The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

The Chalice
by Nancy Bilyeau
Release Date: March 5th, 2013
2013 Touchstone
Ebook Edition; 496 Pages
ISBN: 978-1476708652
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

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…

My Thoughts
The Chalice is the second novel by this author focusing on the continuing tales of Joanna Stafford during the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII.  In this one, Joanna has found a new home for herself and her young nephew, Arthur, in Dartford and is attempting to live life outside of her beloved convent, one of many destroyed by the voracious whims of King Henry VIII and his rampages through the countryside in an attempt to destroy such establishments.  Unfortunately for Joanna, her somewhat peaceful is one again chattered as the chaos of court life and those who inhabit it surround her and find her and draw her into its dark web.  I have not had the pleasure of reading The Crown, Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel, but I was completely enthralled by the events in this novel, and had a lot of difficulty putting this one down.  

The time period of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I is one of many time periods that I just enjoy reading and have studied extensively in school.  The Chalice was a refreshing take on the events during King Henry's reign and although I knew what was going to happen to many of the personages in the novel, I couldn't help but wish that events could have conspired in another direction.  Ms. Bilyeau's writing had that type of effect on my where I came to really care about the characters in the novel, even those I didn't particularly like.  Being drawn into the life of the nobility and their cares and worries made me really feel for their predicament and how stressful it must have been for them during this time period.  The author has a definite way of drawing you intimately into the lives of people such as Henry Courtenay,  Marquess of Exeter, whom I liked very much in this novel.  Politically I knew he was Thomas Cromwell's rival and therefore would be suspect at everything he did, he was also sympathetic to the plight of his people on his vast landholdings and you came to see that sympathy in him through Ms. Bilyeau's writing.  And when he and Baron Montagu, Henry Pole, were executed, I was saddened.  All of this was seen through the eyes and experiences of Joanna Stafford who always seemed to find herself in the middle of all these events.

Joanna is one of those women whom I admire tremendously.  Part of a mighty noble family, she has had to deal with a lot in her life, such as the downfall of her uncle, the Duke of Buckingham.  She is a strong, determined woman who is manipulated by many powerful people around her, including Kings, Bishops, Cardinals, and others, who will stop at nothing in order to get her to help them in their cause: the restoration of the Catholic Church and the downfall of King Henry VIII.  Joanna realizes that the future of England may lie in her hands and she has a hard time accepting this; many of the events in the novel are Joanna's way of escaping her fate.  I've had time to contemplate since I've finished reading, and I understand more fully the difficulty of Joanna's decisions.  When everything is taken from you, why would you go about helping those who took everything you love away?  And whom do you trust?  I really came to root for her and wanted her to find happiness above everything else.  And it's interesting because I also came to root for Anne of Cleves, someone I never really gave a thought to before this novel, and have since read about quite extensively.  What an interesting person she was!

The Chalice was a fabulous novel that I enjoyed tremendously.  The power struggles between the Crown and the Church were well-researched and fit very well into this fictitious story, and I even liked the supernatural element of the prophets.  You have to like it when Nostradame finds his way into a story, as he's another person I find quite fascinating.  There were some small historical hiccups though, such as the time of Henry Pole and Henry Courtenay's execution which took place on January 9th, and not before Christmas as in the novel; their trial took place at the beginning of December.  But these things were so minor that they barely even registered and the story was so interesting that I was absorbed by the characters, their great development, and the storyline.  I highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in the Tudor era, historical fiction, and fully fleshed out characters who are fascinating and well-developed.  The novel also ended in such a way that gives me hope that Joanna Stafford may be featured in a third novel, and I sincerely hope that this may be the case.