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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 10 June 2017
a good read
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on 4 July 2017
Good read and audiobook
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on 23 June 2017
Joanna Stafford is an interesting character worth following so roll on Book 3.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 March 2013
Sister Joanna's story picks up after the dissolution of her beloved Dartford convent, with her new life as a dispossessed nun and putative tapestry maker. The convent was famed for its tapestries, and Joanna hopes to build on this tradition to make a living for herself and her ward, young Arthur. All the characters from The Crown (the first Joanna Stafford novel) are here and personal horizons are widened as romantic love beckons in the form of both former friar Edward Sommerville and the constable who rescued her from the gruesome Smithfield execution of her cousin Margaret, Geoffrey Scoville, who is still watching her back as dark forces drive her reluctantly into the orbit of her Stafford family and their risky heritage - something which Joanna's earlier experiences of Court life make her anxious to avoid; to no avail!

The quiet life is not yet Joanna Stafford's destiny as she gets pulled into further dark intrigues around the Tudor court, and she has to leave Dartford yet again to unwillingly place herself in peril at Court, in the Tower, and in the Low Countries as she is driven to fulfil a mysterious prophecy surrounding the Chalice of the title. Events place her yet again at the heart of a conspiracy, bring her into contact with doomed defenders of the old Catholic faith, and once again into the orbit of the dangerous men who seek to control the King and his latest choice of wife - Anne of Cleves. A cunning new villain, Jacquard, is introduced - a man whose clandestine activities are masked by his initial assistance with the tapestry making venture.

Joanna is more than a match for the challenge she faces although her personal wishes, and her search for a peaceful private life are once again compromised by the great games being played out around her. The panoramic sweep of events takes her overseas, places her in serious danger, and calls her courage and fierce intelligence into full flood in order to survive the demands placed on her by the predictions of a trio of "seers", which culminate in a meeting with Michel de Nostredame - yes, the very one! Along the way she also meets again the unhappy and insecure Princess Mary, the heedless and carefree Catherine Howard, and Anne of Cleves herself as the prophecy comes to pass at the new Queen's all important first meeting with Henry the Eighth, as he continues his efforts to produce more legitimate male heirs to his throne.

This is absolutely first class historical fiction, taking a completely different slant on major Tudor events, with a marvellous heroine, for whom further adventures must be waiting as English society is fractured even further along the religious faultlines triggered by the Boleyn divorce and its aftermath.

Great book, great read, great writer.
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on 11 April 2013
The Chalice is the sequel to Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel, The Crown. It is a story about a young woman named Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun during the reign of King Henry VIII and the terrible period of Reformation that followed. As King Henry orders monasteries and convents closed down, it displaces Joanna along with many other nuns, monks, friars, and priests. As Joanna struggles to sustain herself, she finds herself caught in a dangerous prophecy that becomes entwined with a plot against the king himself. As the story progresses, so does the tension as Joanna finds herself inextricably trapped in one peril after another until its very satisfying ending.

Sister Elizabeth Barton, a prophetic nun of the times, who was put to death by King Henry VIII plays a fascinating role early on in the story. This is one of the authors talents is to weave subplots and info about true historical figures into her stories. And his makes the story real, vibrant, and filled with curiosities.

Having read numerous Tudor novels, the historical details portrayed in this novel are accurate and well researched. This story has much to recommend it - prophetic seers, betrayal, murder, mystery, and intrigue are all prevalent here. Coupled with Nancy Bilyeau's excellent writing style, the story is engrossing, even for those who are tired of the Tudors. Although this is a sequel to The Crown, the author's first novel, it does stand alone very well. But I because both books are excellent reads, I do recommend you read them both and preferably in order. Very entertaining novels which I highly recommend.
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Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel, The Crown, released last year. Newly released is the second book in this series, The Chalice.

The Crown introduced us to Joanna Stafford, a novice nun, in 1537 Tudor England. I was immediately captured by the character of Joanna in this first book, as well as Bilyeau's use of this time period as her setting.

The Chalice picks up where The Crown left off (but new readers would be able to start with this book - a flashback chapter provides the needed background)

It is a year later and the country is being torn apart by a power struggle between the King and the Church. Despite wanting nothing more than to live a quiet life, Joanna discovers that she herself must play a role in determining the outcome in the clash between Henry VIII and the Church. Her role in the country's future was foretold by a seer when she was still a young novice. And that seer also predicted that Joanna would hear two more prophecies from two other sages.

Bilyeau has again proven what a stellar researcher she is. I am not overly familiar with this time period and often found myself heading to the computer to follow up on characters and historical facts. Bilyeau has done a fantastic job of weaving a fictional tale and the past together. The time period, the settings and the descriptions are just as much a character in the story as is Joanna. The prose are rich and full, immersing the reader in this tumultuous time period.

Joanna continues to be a character that intrigues me. She is torn between her loyalties - to her country, her King, her family and her church. But in The Chalice she is also forced to look at her own desires - she has fallen in love. She is a stubborn, courageous woman determined to do what she must. Can this young woman truly alter the course of history or her own destiny?

"Destiny. There is a destiny one creates. And there is a destiny ordained."

Bilyeau weaves together history, adventure, intrigue and yes, romance to create a second tale that historical fiction fans will love. I look forward to the the next book in this series - Joanna's story is far from finished.
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on 7 March 2013
The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau
Published in UK by Orion (2013)

This is our second foray into the Tudor era through the eyes of Joanna Stafford, a novice nun whose priory in Dartford we witnessed being dissolved by Henry VIII in previous book The Crown. I read The Crown before I had set this blog up which is why there will be no review found here for this title and to be perfectly honest I feel nervous about reviewing this sequel, as I worry I will not do justice to this novel and author.

We rejoin Joanna living in a house in Dartford and caring for the now orphaned son of her cousin Margaret. She and her fellow Sisters from the dissolved priory are struggling to come to terms with their new lives outside the order, some more so than others. It is a testament to Nancy's writing in the previous novel that straight from the beginning I felt as though I was back to catch up with old friends. Although Joanna appears to be adapting to the outside world better than the other Sisters, it is not long before her world is turned upside down by the arrival of family she has not had sight of for many years. She is whisked off by them to London, much against the warning of her friend Geoffrey, for a visit to their luxurious home in the capital. In London however it quickly dawns on Joanna that all is not as it would seem on the surface, especially where the lady of the house Gertrude is involved. Joanna is, through Gertrude, dragged into a very murky world of prophecy, necromancy, conspiracy and dangerously close to treason.

Once again the writing conjures up such imagery that it feels we are transported to Tudor England and can feel the tension, fear and jealousies, rampant in that era, surrounding as. I felt a real affinity with Joanna Stafford once again and the fear of something dark always trailing dangerously close behind her made my heart race at times. This I feel is a rare thing to experience with a lot of historical fiction that deals with this era as it is so often involving major figures of the time, whose fate we know already. On this note, one aspect I adore in this novel is that although we are not dealing directly with the figures we know too much about beforehand they do appear often and interact with our heroine. Cromwell for instance barely appears for a page in the novel but his presence and menace is so powerfully portrayed.

It is apparent from both of Nancy's novels so far that she is not only in love with this period of history but is meticulous in her research. The research here though is not thrown in your face, which as a reader of this genre I feel is a mistake that some understandably make. Historical research and accuracy is blended seamlessly in with the story and never at any time feels forced. A particular area I have found very intriguing for awhile is the use of prophecy and seers in Tudor England and am delighted that it has been explored in such an excellent novel. A lot of people seem to forget how much store people put by such practices in these days and I feel this really comes across in The Chalice. Is it dangerous or helpful to know of prophecies concerning yourself? Do we simply end up self fulfilling events that might otherwise not happen? These are the kinds of questions I ended up asking myself at the end of this fast paced novel which I struggled to put down and go to sleep!

You do not necessarily need to have read the first book The Crown in order to read this but I would say that it would enhance your reading of the novel and provide helpful backstory. Both novels I think may also appeal to thriller readers who would not normally pick up historical fiction. To all historical fiction fans and those with an interest in Tudor history however it is a MUST read of 2013!

PERSONAL SCORE FOR THE CHALICE: 5/5
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This is the second book by the author featuring Joanna Stafford in Tudor England. I found the first book, The Crown, did not live up to its potential, but was keen to try the author again.

It's now 1538, and Joanna is living outside the nunnery, and Henry VIII is working to suppress the monasteries. She finds herself caught up in the King's marital and political issues, not knowing who to trust in the political machinations that go on around the Court - who can she trust, and what does the prophecy that Elizabeth Barton gave her 10 years previously mean?

One of the strengths of this book is that it is written from the perspective of those who would shortly be considered the `losers' - Catholics, those sworn to a life of prayer and meditation, those sympathetic to the Lady Mary. It is a novel viewpoint, to read of these times from that point of view, and the characterisations are all very sympathetic. This is a really good book, and I enjoyed it much more than the author's first book. Joanna has become a much more complex character, and the other characters in the book are well written, both those who are known historically and those who are fictional. I look forward to further book in this series.
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on 11 July 2013
Having read and loved Nancy Bilyeau's acclaimed debut novel, The Crown, I was excited when the sequel, The Chalice, landed on my doorstep. I wondered whether it would be as engrossing as its predecessor -- the answer, a resounding yes-- Bilyeau's knack for weaving an enthralling tale and building suspense, had me at the opening line:

`Before the lash of the wind drew blood, before I felt it first move through the air, our horses knew that something was coming.'

Set during the Reformation, The Chalice continues the story of Joanna Stafford who finds herself embroiled in a conspiracy against Henry VIII, while on a quest to return England to the Catholic faith. I don't want to spoil the story by revealing details of the many unexpected twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end, but can assure you that the complex fictional and historical characters, intricate storyline and masterful storytelling make this a riveting page-turner.

Those of you that value well-researched historical fiction will love The Chalice. Bilyeau most certainly knows her stuff and brings England during the Reformation to life in vivid detail.

Another tell-tale sign of great historical fiction is its ability to rouse interest in the real historical figures and events, another tick for Bilyeau, The Chalice had me reaching for my history books, newly inspired to find out more about monastic life in Tudor England. It was also satisfyingly thought provoking and insightful, not often do we see the Reformation from the inside, and from the perspective of those it affected the most.

In summary, highly recommended!
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on 17 March 2013
Firstly, although I am English and reasonably well-educated, I am alarmingly amateur at the subtleties of English history. I learn more from American anglophiles that anyone else. New Yorker Nancy Bilyeau has steeped herself in the Tudor period to an extent that shames me. Her two Joanna Stafford novels, 'The Crown' and 'The Chalice' share an air of authenticity and research that alone makes them worth reading. Yet they are much more than that. They are, in that horrid term, page turners. Here's another horridity - they are what people call a Rattling Good Yarn. So go for them. Your bedside light won't be turned off until 1 am.
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