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The Crown    by Nancy Bilyeau order for
by Nancy Bilyeau
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Touchstone, 2012 (2012)
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* * *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

Before Katherine of Aragon died, she entrusted Joanna Stafford with a dangerous secret. Her first husband, Prince Arthur, once traveled to a priory named Dartford which housed a sacred relic worn by England's first true king - Athelstan. The crown was rumored to contain thorns from the crown Jesus Christ wore during his crucifixion. Katherine insisted Prince Arthur briefly wore the crown before his death. Joanna vowed never to reveal what Henry VIII's first wife told her on her death bed. But when her father's life is in jeopardy, Joanna must break the promise she made in order to save him from certain death in the Tower of London.

After Katherine of Aragon's demise, Joanna joins Dartford Priory as a novice. But when she hears her cousin is to be executed, she travels to London. There she is arrested, along with her father, and taken to the Tower of London. When Joanna arrives at the Tower, she is stunned to be questioned by the formidable Bishop Gardiner. But Joanna is truly unsettled when Gardiner demands to know the secrets of Dartford Priory. Not only does he know what Katherine of Aragon revealed to Joanna before her death, but he demands to know where Athelstan's crown is, in order to stop Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII from dismantling England's monasteries and priories. Although Joanna's knowledge of the crown comes only from a brief death bed confession, she must locate it to save her father's life.

The elusive crown once worn by the grandson of Alfred the Great proves to be shrouded in mystery. But Joanna learns that Bishop Gardiner is not the first person to look for it. Before King Edward III built Dartford Priory to house the crown, Richard the Lion Heart searched for it in France shortly before his death. King Edward III's son, the Black Prince, also attempted to locate the crown before his sudden death. And Katherine of Aragon's death bed confession revealed that young Prince Arthur once visited the crown at Dartford Priory shortly before he died. Although the quest for the crown has resulted in the death of all who seek it, Joanna must find it for Bishop Gardiner or her father will lose his life.

The Crown reads at a frantic pace as Joanna attempts to decipher clues leading to the sacred relic. From moonlight visits to the Dartford Priory Library, to secret clues that lurk behind the fables in Dartford's tapestries, and finally to the tomb of King Athelstan in Malmsbury Abbey, Joanna's quest to save her father will lead her straight to the crown that kings have coveted for centuries. I can't help but compare The Crown to a Dan Brown novel. Anyone who loves a mystery that begs to be solved and that feeling of anticipation as you turn each page, will devour this book in a day. As a lover of history and mystery novels, this one offered the best of both worlds for me. Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel is an impressive work that transcends genres. I look forward to more from this author.

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