THE CROWN by Nancy Bilyeau lands the reader firmly in a world torn asunder by politics and Tudor machinations in the year 1537.
Joanna Stafford is from a young aristocratic family, but all she has ever wanted is to live a quiet life behind the walls of Dartford Priory. Her novice vows are challenged when she learns that her closest friend and cousin, Margaret, is to be burned at the stake at the order of Henry VIII, for supporting the Catholic revolt against Cromwell's hard-handed tactics and the dismantling of religious houses across the country.
Joanna knows that Margaret will die along and in agony, so she breaks the rules of her house and leaves at night, hoping to give her cousin one glimpse of a friendly face before the flames take her. But she barely makes it to the execution in time, and is saved from the violence of city streets by a young man, Geoffrey, who tries to stop her from getting closer to Margaret.
The two are arrested and taken to the Tower for interfering, where Joanna is faced with a new threat to her conscience. The Bishop of Winchester charges her with spying for him inside the Dartford Abbey, while secretly searching for the location of a religious relic - the crown of Athelstan. Joanna wants no part of delivering a precious relic into the hands of the king who is destroying her faith, but when Winchester racks her own father in front of her eyes, she has no choice.
Joanna returns to Dartford in the company of two Dominican friars whose own house has been dismantled, and whose agenda's she questions. If she is a pawn of Winchester, who do they belong to? Fighting her conscience, her heart, and the powerful hand of Cromwell, Joanna searches for clues to the Athelstan crown in artwork, tapestries, libraries and the very architecture of her priory. What she discovers is a a relic so strong that great rulers have been struck dead within days of touching it.
She knows it is powerful. She knows greedy men desire it. And she knows she has to find it first.