Bilyeau’s venture into Tudor territory veers away from Henry VIII to explore a more obscure aspect of his reign, the dismantling of England’s monasteries and convents.
A young noblewoman, Joanna Stafford, is brought by her father to Dartford Priory, where she enters the novitiate. Soon thereafter, thanks to a foolhardy attempt to render aid to her condemned cousin Margaret, Joanna and her father are confined to the Tower, where they languish for several months. Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, engineers Joanna’s release and return to Dartford, but not without extracting from her a terrible admission: concealed somewhere at the priory is a sacred relic, the Crown of King Athelstan, England’s last great Saxon monarch. Her father will remain in the Tower until Joanna locates and secures the Crown for Gardiner, who, he says, intends to use its mysterious power to, somehow, thwart King Henry’s rampage against Roman Catholicism and its religious orders. Accompanying Joanna to Dartford are two other agents of the Bishop, the recently dispossessed Dominican friars Brother Richard and Brother Edmund. Back at Dartford, Joanna’s search for the Crown yields no clues, until a visitor, Lord Chester, drunkenly spots a telling tapestry and collapses in terror. Sometime that night Chester is murdered. Brother Edmond is accused, but cleared when Lady Chester leaves a suicide note confessing her own guilt. When Henry’s operatives appear at Dartford it is clear that Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister and Gardiner’s sworn enemy, is aware of the Athelstan Crown’s existence; its links to Charlemagne and Christ himself; and its unique proclivity: to bring invincibility to anyone of royal blood who is pure, and death to anyone who is not. Only when Richard, Edmund and Joanna join forces can they trace the legend of Athelstan to its roots in another monastery, but their faith and trust in the Bishop known as Wily Winchester will be severely tested.
This fast-paced debut delivers Tudor intrigue and mystical thrills in one satisfying package—and leaves room for a sequel.