Saturday, March 7, 2015

Review: The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

The Tapestry (Joanna Stafford, Book #3)
by Nancy Bilyeau
Release Date: March 24th, 2015
2015 Touchstone
Ebook Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-1476756370
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

5 / 5 Stars

After her priory in Dartford is closed, collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII's quest to overthrow the Catholic Church, Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King's attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King whom she has twice attempted to overthrow, unbeknownst to him. She fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. And her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be one of the King's mistresses. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naive Catherine from becoming the King's next wife and possibly, victim.

My Thoughts
The Tapestry is the third novel, and the final book in the Joanna Stafford trilogy, and like the previous two novels in this series, is filled with suspense, taught drama, fascinating historical figures, and dangerous court intrigues.  Joanna, being summoned to the court where some of her most fearsome enemies await, struggles between wanting the quiet life she lives in Dartford, and the more glamorous one she could have at the court of King Henry VIII, a man she despises, yet could also return to her the beloved nephew she would like to raise as her own.   

Joanna, as always, is a very complicated character, who really struggles with what she wants in this  novel.  She is torn between the vows she made as a novice Dominican nun, and the life she could have for herself now that the priory no longer exists.  A devout Catholic, she struggles to maintain her relationship with God with all of the terrible cruelties she sees around her, and how difficult King Henry VIII has made it for people to worship, never knowing how the tides are going to turn from one day to the next.  Public burnings and terrible executions have made people fearful and distrustful, including Joanna herself.  Upon receiving a summons from court by King Henry VIII, she has no choice but to submit and go to London to see what he wants, becoming embroiled in the court intrigues herself.  Meeting all of these historical figures was quite fascinating, and even though I am quite familiar with them, I still found myself looking them up just to double-check their fates.  The research was very well done in this novel, and I always felt like I was right there with Joanna, experiencing what she was experiencing, and believe me, there were were very horrible moments.  The execution of Thomas Cromwell was one of them, and I still shudder every time I think of it, exactly how I felt when I first learned of it, and when I visited Tower Hill the first time.  Whatever others may think, I have always felt that Cromwell was a man of the times, trying to survive in the court of Henry VIII, which could not have been an easy task, and to die that way was horrible.

One of the things I have enjoyed about these novels is the fact that Joanna happens to travel quite a bit for an English lady, not necessarily by choice.  Having been to Belgium in previous novels, this time she visits Germany, and so readers get a taste of what Germany was like during this time period, and what drove a man like Holbein to leave his wife for eight years and live at King Henry VIII's court.  Most of the intrigues revolved around religion, which was apropos as religion was pretty much central to most of the strife during this time period, and names like Agrippa and Paracelsus showed up quite frequently in the conversations. I had never really studied Paracelsus so I did some research and I am amazed at how much credit is given to him for being the father of this and the father of that. And he is even credited with unknowingly observing hydrogen but didn't realize at the time that it was a new element.  I definitely need to read up on this man.  And for Joanna to arrive in Regensburg just as the Colloquy of Regensburg (the Diet) was about to begin was quite interesting as it gave the reader a taste of what it was like to witness the arguments and the debates about religion and how the countries tried to come to an agreement, but in the end, failed.

The Tapestry was a well-researched, fascinating read that kept me gripped and entertained the entire time.  Working around well-known historical figures such as Catherine Howard, King Henry VIII, Thomas Culpepper, the Duke of Norfolk, Bishop Gardiner, Anne of Cleves, Ambassador Chapuys, Thomas Cromwell, Henry Howard, Hans Holbein the Younger, Anthony Denny, and so on, it was a treat to read. Working around a very likeable and spunky heroine, combined with very vivid and descriptive historical detail, and a plot that was full of suspense and intrigue, made this story very captivating and enjoyable to read.  And there was even a romance to boot!! I really feel that the author has created a very authentic novel of the time period, one in which we really care about what happens to all of the characters, to their troubles, their fears, their anxieties, and twisted all of that into an exciting and captivating plot full of intrigue and surprises.


  1. I like the sound of it. Good review, Stephanie.

  2. Such a lot of research must go into these novels and I love reading something where I come away with a little more knowledge. Sounds intriguing.

    1. I am always amazed how much research goes into these novels. I did an interview once with an author whose research took her over ten years to do.