book reviews by Althea

The Chalice – Nancy Bilyeau ***

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(Joanna Stafford, #2)

I really enjoyed Bilyeau’s previous Joanna Stafford novel, ‘The Crown,’ so went out of my way to pick this up.

It’s still fun, not weighty, historical fiction. However, the story here is a lot less focused than in the previous novel. There’s a prophecy, and a plot; both of which could affect the fate of Henry VIII and the fate of the realm. Joanna spends a lot of time vacillating between rejecting everything to do with prophecy and accepting her place in it. I thought that her rejection seemed illogically vehement, which in turn meant that her swings toward acceptance seemed a bit out-of-left-field.

Joanna is oddly positioned in her society – balanced on a cusp between nobility, religious community, and the common people. Her position is further destabilized by Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, which means that Joanna, formerly a novice nun, is now not quite anything. (Of course, this frees up potential for the love triangle involving her, the constable Geooffrey, and the former monk Edmund). Joanna’s new goal is to become a skilled craftsperson and businesswoman, weaving tapestries. I’m not 100% sure how accurate the picture of class distinctions in Tudor society that emerges here is.

Although I didn’t feel quite the level of tension and excitement here that the first book delivered; I’m still quite likely to read the third in the series when it comes out.


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