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Book Review: The Tapestry

April 24, 2015

The Tapestry
Nancy Bilyeau
Review copy from Publisher

Having thoroughly enjoyed The Crown, and its sequel, The Chalice, I was curious to see how the mysteries and intrigue surrounding Joanna Stafford would evolve, and resolve. It’s highly recommended to begin at the beginning with The Crown, and then read straight through. While I could pick up the intrigues and mystery reasonably well having read the earlier books over a year ago, I think a re-read would have been even more fun leading into the third volume.

Let me say this right off: The Tapestry is aptly named. Not just because, after the events of the previous installments, Joanna plans to set herself up in a quiet life weaving tapestries…. but then finds herself faced with a “request,” and an official commission from Henry VIII. Henry VIII, drawn in all his decadent (kind of amazingly repulsive) glory by Bilyeau’s excellent descriptions, is not so much the sort of person whose requests one can ignore.

So, despite misgivings, Joanna undertakes the journey to Whitehall, to the Tudor Court, where being a former nun puts her in a distinctly odd, and uneasy position, to say the least. Henry VIII has dismantled convents and monasteries, looting them of their treasures, is married to Anne of Cleves, and is spending an awful lot of time with the young, and innocent Catherine Howard. Joanna Stafford also has to navigate court intrigue regarding familiar historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell, John Cheke, and Thomas Culpeper.

And, even before she arrives at Whitehall, somebody’s trying to kill Joanna. The combination of Joanna’s voice, and excellent description keeps the suspense rising very nicely.  This is a dark book, full of scheming and excellent peril, and I was rooting for Joanna to come through, even if I wasn’t entirely sure, until the surprising ending, how she would make it happen.

It’s hard to say who is the biggest architect of Bad Things happening to Joanna and  others in the Tudor court, or who is the main mastermind of intrigue. Whoever’s at the heart of it, whether the intrigue is political, religious, mystical, or some combination of all three, it runs very very deep.

Highly recommended that you block out a weekend to dig into this book, order takeout and don’t move from your comfy chair, because sustained attention is needed, especially in the last third of the book, to keep track of who Joanna’s friends and allies (few) are, who knows what, and who can’t be trusted (a lengthy and shifting list.) I had some knowledge, vaguely remembered from history class, of the Tudor court and historical events, but the sheer physicality of Bilyeau’s descriptions, and the immediacy of Joanna’s voice made the story absolutely engrossing. The kind of historical fiction where you look up after a few chapters, and are surprised to be in the 21st century.

Not sure what’s next for Bilyeau. It seems like Joanna’s story has reached its satisfying, if unanticipated, conclusion. I’m hoping there will be another historical mystery in the works, Tudor or otherwise.


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