The adventures of Tudor-era ex-nun Joanna Stafford continue as she battles a lethal conspiracy.
When we last left Joanna (The Chalice, 2013, etc.), a fictional daughter of the disgraced Stafford clan, she had retreated to Dartford, site of her former home, the Dominican priory dismantled by King Henry VIII’s minister Cromwell, along with the rest of England’s monasteries. There, she hopes to live in quiet retirement—no more schemes like the plot to kill King Henry in which she was once unwittingly embroiled. Her only concern is that she was prevented from marrying her beloved Edmund, an ex-friar, at the last minute when Geoffrey, the Dartford constable (another admirer) brought up an inconvenient royal edict that those who once took holy vows had to remain celibate. As she pursues her new vocation, tapestry weaving, Joanna is dismayed to receive a royal summons—King Henry needs her textile expertise at the palace of Whitehall. Immediately upon arrival, Joanna narrowly escapes kidnapping by a gruff man disguised as a page. From then on, no end of Tudor machinations and plots enmeshes her once again. Powerful relatives are pressuring teenage Catherine Howard to become the king’s mistress. Joanna witnesses Cromwell weeping just before he is to be elevated to an earldom. Her friend Thomas Culpepper seems to be involved with two other courtiers in a sinister “covenant” to bring down Cromwell using witchcraft. Joanna’s few allies at court include the portraitist Hans Holbein. When Joanna’s life is once again threatened, Geoffrey returns and removes her to Europe, where, while supposedly acquiring tapestries for the king’s collection, she will endeavor to solve several mysteries: Edmund’s disappearance, the nature of the necromancy behind the Cromwell covenant, and whether or not she will finally decide between Geoffrey and Edmund. Despite much explanatory back story, this book does not really stand alone. It should be read in sequence with its two predecessors—not all that unappealing a chore
Illuminated by Bilyeau’s vivid prose, minor players of Tudor England emerge from the shadows.