Wednesday, June 03, 2015

481 (2015 #38). The Chalice

written by Nancy Bilyeau,
read by Nicola Barber

This is the second in a series of three (so far) books featuring the invented character Joanna Stafford, a member of a (real) noble family in England who was a novice in a Dominican priory during the reign of Henry VIII.  This book is set (mostly) in the period from October 1538 to January 1540, with the first chapter flashing forward to December 1538 and then back ten years earlier.  The final chapter of the book takes place in March 1540, and mostly seems to be laying the groundwork for the third and next book in the series, The Tapestry.

I read the books in the series out of order, finishing #1, The Crown, first, then The Tapestry.  I would strongly recommend reading these books in order.  Some of what happens in this second book was spoiled for me, having read the third book before it.

In this installment, Joanna travels various places over a span of ten-plus years to meet three seers who repeat the same base prophesy, but add additional information each time.  The first seer she meets is the real nun Elizabeth Barton, when Joanna is 17.  The last is another real person - Michel de Nostredame (aka Nostradamus, although this occurs at a time when little is know about his life).  Not surprisingly, their prophecies involve the former nun, who is also trying to deal with her interrupted wedding, the disappearance of her fiance, the former friar Edmund Sommerville, and the other man in her life, Geoffrey Scovill, the constable in her home of Dartford.

Nancy Bilyeau cleverly weaves real people, places, and events into her novel.  Among them are the 1538 destruction of St. Thomas Becket's shrine at Canterbury, the Courtenays and Catherine Brandon, the 1539 Revolt of Ghent in Belgium and the Gravensteen castle there, and Anne of Cleves as she travels through Calais on her way to England to become Henry VIII's fourth wife.  Bilyeau does it so well, though, that the reader never feels she is just namedropping all these famous people.  Their real and fictional actions are key parts of the story.

This is a Tudor thriller, so our heroine Joanna spends a lot of time tied up or imprisoned or fighting her way out (and some time drugged or sick or nearly dead).  There really were Six Articles passed by Parliament in 1539 that would have prevented former nuns and friars from marrying - thus preventing a marriage I felt would be a mistake.

Nicola Barber's reading is wonderful again.  I did learn that I cannot listen to audiobooks as I am lying in bed; invariably I go to sleep and miss parts of the story.  I was trying to beat a deadline for this one as the e-audiobook is due tomorrow, and thankfully the Overdrive app for my Kindle has a snooze feature that automatically stops the playback at a designated length of time,  Thanks to this feature (which I set to the length of the chapter), I could easily go back to the beginning of the chapter the next day if I fell asleep in the midst of it.

I have a feeling there will be at least one more book in this series.  For one thing, the Six Articles were not repealed until after Henry VIII's death in January 1547. While this book is my least favorite of the three so far, I would definitely read another book in this series and anything else Nancy Bilyeau decides to write.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This e-audiobook was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]

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