Title: The Chalice: A Novel
Author: Nancy Bilyeau
Narrator: Nicola Barber
Format: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook / Audio Book / MP3 cd
Audio Production: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Length 14 Hours: 49 minutes
Source: Blackstone Audio
Genre: Historical Mystery/Thriller
Overall: 5 Narration: 5 Story: 5
Purchase Now: Amazon § Blackstone § Audible § Barnes&Noble § iTunes
About the Book:
In the midst of England’s Reformation, a young novice will risk everything to defy the most powerful men of her era.
In 1538, England’s bloody power struggle between crown and cross threatens to tear the country apart. Novice Joanna Stafford has tasted the wrath of the royal court, discovered what lies within the king’s torture rooms, and escaped death at the hands of those desperate to possess the power of an ancient relic.
Even with all she has experienced, the quiet life is not for Joanna. Despite the possibilities of arrest and imprisonment, she becomes caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting Henry VIII himself. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna realizes her role is more critical than she’d ever imagined. She must choose between those she loves most and assuming her part in a prophecy foretold by three seers. Repelled by violence, Joanna seizes a future with a man who loves her. But no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the spreading darkness of her destiny.
To learn the final, sinister piece of the prophecy, she flees across Europe with a corrupt spy sent by Spain. As she completes the puzzle in the dungeon of a twelfth-century Belgian fortress, Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lies at the center of these deadly prophecies. . . .
It is rare that a mystery is as balanced with layered characters, rich in historical detail, and provides a mystery that does not overwhelm the story, but enhances and provides a reader or listener with the need to read more. Nancy Bilyeau has managed to craft a story that is trans- portative and informative, with the character of Joanna being so well-constructed that she nearly emerges from the pages.
While the mystery is more a religious one, and the well-known antagonism of Henry VIII for the Catholic church, and adding in several occult moments all centering on Joanna’s discovery of the pieces of the puzzle known as the prophecy. Beautifully defined and described, with a perfectly pitched, paced and enunciated voicing provided by the narration of Nicola Barber. Her subtle voicing changes to illustrate character delineations and the changes in pacing and stridency to enhance tension, emotion or action all worked in concert, providing the perfect accompaniment to the words on the page.
The mixing of fictional and historical characters provide an interesting counterpoint in both construct and feel, giving a sense of fit to the fictional construct within the time. While Joanna is essentially a pious and reserved character, her intelligence, kindness and sense of duty and purpose all manage to provide her in a realistic light. While she does have her moments of dither, that inner core of strength moves her forward to complete her quest.
While there are great dramatic moments, and several moments in which romantic interests and curiosities are aroused, the quest to solve the prophetic mystery and the clues that are rich in symbolism, Joanna is really most focused on her ‘mission’ and while she notices, and even agonizes over some of the moments, she is near single-minded in moving forward to solve the mystery, and decide if she is meant to fulfil or deny the destiny foretold for her.
This is one of those audiobooks that is a perfect accompaniment to a long car/train trip; although I couldn’t listen to it all in one sitting, when I wasn’t listening it was calling to me; never far from my thoughts. That I wanted to listen to all 14+ hours in one sitting is probably the most ringing endorsement I can give. Truly a fascinating book, for historical fiction fans, for mystery fans and for those who are just ‘trying out’ a new genre.
I received an MP3 download from Blackstone Audio via the AudioBook Jukebook reviews program for the Heard Word. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.