Nancy Bilyeau began work on her first novel - The Crown - in 2005. Her hard work definitely paid off - The Crown is an absolutely wonderful debut.
The Crown is set in Tudor England in 1537. Joanna Stafford is a novice nun at the Dartford Priory. She leaves without permission to attend the public death of her cousin Lady Margaret Bulmer. Her presence does not go unnoticed. She is found out and soon becomes the unwilling agent of a Bishop determined to find a sacred relic - the Crown of Athelstan.
Bilyeau has created an engaging character in Sister Joanna. She is a pious young woman, but has a streak of stubbornness and determination that make her all the more believable and engaging. The supporting characters are also well drawn, as are the 'villians'.
But for me, Bilyeau's strength lies in her research. The historical detail in The Crown is phenomenal. I have a working knowledge of this time period, but learned so much from reading this book. Her prose, characters and setting all accurately captured this time period and brought it to life.
The Crown successfully combines history with mystery, intrique and yes, some romance to provide a throughly engrossing read. Bilyeau is working on a second novel featuring Sister Joanna - I'll be picking it up. I'd like to see where Joanna's path next leads.
Read an excerpt of The Crown. A reading group guide is also available. You can find Nancy Bilyeau on Twitter.