The title of the book signifies a mysterious relic, the crown of a holy Saxon king, which Joanna is commissioned by the wily Bishop Gardiner to find for purposes of his own. Joanna knows that not finding the crown could mean the torture and execution of her father, who already languishes in the Tower of London.Yet, along with the elusive and tangible crown, there are many other awe-inspiring crowns in the novel, the crown of martyrdom, the crown of virginity, the crown of Our Lady, the blood-splattered Tudor crown, the pagan crown of ancient monuments at Stonehenge, the crown of the foundations of a lost monastery and the Crown of Thorns. Even as the symbolism of the crown is repeated throughout the novel, so Joanna finds her vocation tested as she learns to overcome her worst fears. It is a story in which spiritual victory comes as the fruit of earthly defeat.
One plot element in The Crown involves a series of famous tapestries which hold clues to solving several puzzling scenarios. Even as the tapestries are woven by the nuns at Dartford Priory, the author has woven her story so that many clues hidden in the narrative, which make the novel a mystery and a thriller as well as an intriguing work of historical fiction, containing many details of monastic existence and of the struggles of the poor in the sixteenth century. It is refreshing to see the Reformation from a Catholic point of view, one reminiscent of Robert Hugh Benson. I came away from the book marveling at how God's plan is like a vast tapestry of which we only see a tiny portion and yet every thread has a distinct purpose. Through her stumbles and falls, Joanna is confronted with her own weakness yet she rises with new strength, gaining insights which help her to see beyond the surface of things.
Here is my interview with the author Nancy Bilyeau.
(*NOTE: The Crown was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.)