Thursday, June 25, 2015

Review: The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

Title: The Tapestry (Joanna Stafford #3)
Author: Nancy Bilyeau
Publisher:  Touchstone (March 24, 2015)
ISBN: 9781476756370
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 3 cups 


The next page-turner in the award-winning Joanna Stafford series takes place in the heart of the Tudor court, as the gutsy former novice risks everything to defy the most powerful men of her era.

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.

My Thoughts:

I greatly enjoyed Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel, The Crown, but I felt the second book of the trilogy, The Chalice, faltered and lost much of the mystery and intrigue of the first book. Thinking perhaps it was simply a case of 'middle trilogy slump' I continued on, hoping the third book would recapture some of the spark of the first.

While I did find The Tapestry somewhat better than book 2, it still fails to measure up to The Crown, in my opinion. It drags from the outset, with many 'refreshers' as to what has come before in the previous books, as Joanna is summoned and then makes her way to the court of King Henry VIII. Once she arrives, an attack on her life creates a bit of intrigue, which again plods along amongst much Tudor court drama. Sadly I did not find it all that engaging, and even the ultimate resolution of this mystery is quite anticlimactic and unfulfilling.

The love triangle is once again in play, and begins to feel rather tiresome as Joanna is more indecisive than ever. Does she want Edmund or does she want Geoffrey? Or does she truly just want to be a nun and not a wife at all? She waffles and flip-flops continually until I really didn't care any more about the romantic outcome, although it does finally get resolved at the end of the book.

Bilyeau can write, and there is a lot of history presented here with many well-known figures making appearances - Joanna's interactions with the painter Hans Holbein are a highlight. However, most of it is not explored too deeply and much is simply mentioned in passing. Still, a few compelling points are made, including the reflection that in some ways historical times are not all that different from the modern day:
“Do you know that in the last twenty-five years there have been junctures when a great many people believed that the world was coming to an end? They sold all their goods and gathered in wait of the apocalypse. These are harrowing times we live in, Joanna, times of discovery and learning but also the greatest turmoil of faith in a millennium.”
For me the star of this trilogy is still the first book. I could easily have ended Joanna Stafford's story there and been satisfied, bypassing the last two books entirely. Others may feel differently, but I much preferred the faster pace and more engaging plot of The Crown.
"Turning points are not always evident to us when they appear. How different everything might have been for me if I had not nodded in agreement and then ridden with my friends to discover what was on the other side of that wall."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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