The Chalice: A Novel – Review and Recommended

The ChaliceThe Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Should prophecy determine one’s actions? How much should one sacrifice in order to see a prophecy fulfilled? Who determines what the prophecy really means?

These are some of the questions that build the tensions and the conflicts in The Chalice. While this is a sequel to the earlier novel The Crown, it can be read on its own merits (but don’t ignore the earlier!)

Joanna Stafford was hoping to enter the Dominican order as a nun, but while still a novice, King Henry VIII shut down the monasteries and abbeys. As if life is now not difficult enough–England was torn between those who still wanted to follow the Catholic faith and practice, and those who were now devoted to the Reformed, non-Catholic (not quite yet Protestant) faith taught by Luther and others–Joanna is also anguished by her feelings for Constable Geoffrey and for the former Brother Edmund. She also is conflicted by her being directly named and involved in a strange “prophecy,” which has been interpreted by those who wish to use her in a plot to overthrow the King, bring back the Catholic faith, and change England forever.

Queen Jane Seymour has died, and Henry is searching for a new, fourth wife. Princess Mary, his first-born, has shown friendship for Joanna, and this is seen by some as a sign that Joanna is firmly on the side of those who want Catholicism returned as the religion of England. Along the way Joanna meets and befriends a young Catherine Howard, happily off to become a lady in waiting to whomever becomes the new Queen. Joanna also becomes involved with spies placed by Emperor Charles. She even meets a certain “seer” in Ghent, with the name of Nostradame.

Throughout the novel, tensions build as Joanna has to make very difficult choices. The agreements she makes with certain persons, she may not be able to retract, as she attempts to keep herself and her foster son safe. Conflicts also mount, those both within Joanna’s own heart, as well as those in the outer world of England. What is really best for England and her people? What would it really mean to overthrow a king? Is Joanna truly the chosen one of this prophecy, and if she is, how far does her responsibility go, in fulfilling this prophecy? What price to her heart, and her soul? Can prophecy be interpreted more than one way? Who decides?

It may be very hard to put this book down until it is finished (and it is a nice substantive read). Joanna is still a fascinating character, and while the “romantic” feelings she has for two particular men are very real, there are many concerns that require more of her attention than just which man should she choose. The depiction of the historical events and persons provide a richly substantial setting to the story, without judging or favoring Catholic or Protestant side. Much about the political/religious divisions may resonate for our own time as readers ponder how each religious side views the other, both lies and truths.

This is a fantastic book, and highly recommended not just for those who love historical fiction, but also who like well-developed, multi-dimensional characters who are strong enough to face what life throws at them, and yet are still highly relatable to the reader.

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