Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: THE TAPESTRY by Nancy Bilyeau

Ever since her Dominican priory was closed by order of Henry VIII, Joanna Stafford has tried to live a quiet life weaving tapestries in the small town of Dartford. Yet fate refuses to allow her respite. In Nancy Bilyeau’s THE TAPESTRY (Touchstone, 2015), the third and final installment of a three-book series that includes THE CROWN (2012) and THE CHALICE (2013), King Henry summons Joanna to court to discuss a tapestry commission. Reluctant to serve a king she has twice tried to dethrone, yet desperate for an income that will allow her to raise her young nephew, Joanna obeys. Minutes after her arrival at Whitehall, a mysterious man attempts to murder her. Thrust into a web of international intrigue that pits her against an array of new and former nemeses, Joanna must rely on wits, courage and integrity to her protect herself and her friend Catherine Howard, the king’s latest favorite, from forces determined to alter England’s unprecedented course.

THE TAPESTRY vividly captures the unsettled, suspicious atmosphere of mid-sixteenth century England. The country is in a state of constant turmoil as it struggles to embrace the changes wrought by King Henry’s whims. In this new world where a common upstart like Thomas Cromwell can gain an earldom—and the king’s confidence—noblemen fret over the security of their positions; courtiers jockey for favor; ambitious wives and wards seek to catch the king’s roving eye. As defrocked priests and nuns struggle to support themselves outside the dismantled walls of their monasteries, the clerical hierarchy barter their souls for benefices. Rich and poor alike guard their tongues as opportunists seek to profit through denunciation. Against this backdrop of festering mistrust, putrid as King Henry’s infected leg, Bilyeau weaves an intricate plot that meshes the international the national, the personal with the political, the secular with the religious. As much as Joanna longs to escape the court and its machinations, her protective concern for Catherine’s fate compels her to stay. She soon uncovers a mysterious “covenant” dedicated to toppling Cromwell so as to restore the Catholic faith in England. The occult nature of this covenant and its effects reinforces the authenticity of the setting, for sixteenth-century culture professed a deep and abiding interest in the dark arts. Joanna’s unquestioning acceptance of the power of the covenant and her quest to locate an arcane text that might undo its effects prove her to be a true daughter of her time.

Rare is the Tudor novel that ventures beyond the confines of England; THE TAPESTRY opens vistas well beyond the usual realm of Tudor fiction. Imperial agents who, in THE CHALICE, coerce Joanna to cooperate in an attempt to assassinate the king, continue to dog her steps at the English court, complicating lives and politics. German artist Hans Holbein offers a continental perspective on events and becomes Joanna’s trusted friend and adviser. In a surprising development, Joanna exploits her appointment as Tapestry Mistress to quit England in search of her former fiancé, Edmund Sommerville. After brief stays in Paris and Flanders, she journeys deep into Germany, a dangerous region suffering from famine and revolt. The adventures that befall her there introduce the reader to aspects of Renaissance history not normally explored in historical fiction (the Diet of Regensburg, anyone?) and add an intriguing flavor to an already singular story.

But it is Joanna herself, more than the story’s rich setting or deft plot, who entrances the reader. Beset by troubles and surrounded by unscrupulous schemers, Joanna never compromises her integrity. Though she  mourns her lost life as a nun and resents her uncertain future, she refuses to despair. Loyal and courageous, she fights to protect Catherine from exploitation; generous and determined, she prays with the condemned as they lay their heads on the block. Though clever enough to outwit spies and assassins, Joanna cannot understand her own heart. Torn between her love for the absent Edmund, whom she almost married, and an undeniable attraction to constable Geoffrey Scoville, her constant shadow, she reveals a touching vulnerability and a confusion that only slowly, painfully, clears. It is Joanna’s admirable humanness that has turned so many of the trilogy’s readers into devoted fans.

In THE TAPESTRY, Nancy Bilyeau brings the adventures of her spirited heroine to a triumphant close. Mystery and romance, research and imagination, realism and magic combine in perfect proportion, immersing the reader in the past, enthralling her in the present, and leaving her in hope that Bilyeau will resurrect her intrepid ex-nun in the not-too-distant future.

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. THE TAPESTRY will be released in March 2015.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Stay in touch with her on Twitter at @tudorscribe. For more information or to sign up for Nancy’s Newsletter please visit her official website.
For a list of Nancy's other stops on this blog tour, please visit the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour website.
To enter to win one of three signed hardcover copies of THE TAPESTRY, please complete the giveaway form at

Giveaway starts on March 16th at 12:01am EST and ends at 11:59pm EST on April 3rd.
Giveaway is open to residents in North American and the UK.
You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winners will be chosen via GLEAM on April 4th and notified via email.
Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
Please email Amy @ with any questions.

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