Saturday, May 23, 2015

479 (2015 #36). The Tapestry

by Nancy Bilyeau,
read by Nicola Barber

I requested this audio book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program because:

1) I love audiobooks, as I have a 40-minute-each-way commute each workday,
2) I love historical fiction, and
3) I love reading about the Tudor era.

This book sounded especially interesting because it was NOT about the typical subjects - Henry VIII, his wives, or his children.  Instead, author Nancy Bilyeau has as her protagonist a fictional woman, Joanna, a former Dominican novice, from a real aristocratic family, the Staffords.

While this audiobook could stand alone, I found I enjoyed it more when I finished the first book in the series, The Crown, which I borrowed from the public library and started reading shortly after I started listening to this.  I think it would have been even more helpful to have read the second book in the series, The Chalice, before reading this one, as there were many more references to events in that book which might have been more clear in this third novel with the background of reading the second novel as well.

In addition, the second novel has been spoiled a little bit for me now as well, in that I have a pretty good idea of what happens in that one.  Thus, I would definitely recommend reading the first two books in the series before reading this one.

That being said, I enjoyed this book.  The tapestry in question is one that Joanna has been commissioned by Henry VIII to weave, as he has appointed her tapestry mistress.  This brings her from her peaceful home in Dartford, where many of the nuns and novices from the former priory have settled, back into the dangers and intrigues of the court.  Joanna apparently knows too much, and someone is trying to kill her.

As tapestry mistress, she meets the artist Hans Holbein the Younger, and gets to travel to Brussels in search of more tapestries for the king.  Learning about this art form was a highlight of the book.

Bilyeau weaves in many other Tudor era personages - Henry VIII of course, his fourth wife Anne of Cleves and fifth wife Catherine Howard (the latter a friend of Joanna's), Thomas Cromwell, and Bishop Gardiner, among others.  Joanna also interacts with other even less well-known real people like Thomas Culpeper - a gentleman of Henry VIII's Privy chamber and another friend of Catherine Howard.  Bilyeau doesn't have any of them doing anything too out of character, which keeps the story believable.

British voice talent Nicola Barber has a beautifully feminine and cultured voice, and was quite believable as Joanna.  She also does well with other voices, even male.  At times I had to listen to sections more than once, but I believe that was due to some of the complexities of the plot (particularly with all the alchemists of the era referenced, such as Agrippa and Paracelsus), as well as my lack of familiarity with the previous two installments in this series.

I did not know much about alchemy or tapestries of the period before listening to this book, so once again, good, well-researched historical fiction has inspired more learning for me.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This audiobook was received from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.  It will be donated to my university library.]

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