Many thanks to Audiobook Jukebox for sending us a copy of The Tapestry, which was lovingly narrated by the exquisite Nicola Barber. There’s nothing I like more than listening to the masterful tones of Ms. Barber, and her talents were certainly a highlight for this audiobook.
Alas, I am in the minority when it comes to my rating for the actual novel. There’s nothing I despise more than giving a poor review to someone’s hard work. I believe wholeheartedly that Nancy Bilyeau put her heart and soul into this final installment of the Joanna Stafford trilogy. The book is meticulously researched, and the author’s passion for historical fiction is very evident in the detail that she provides. I would be remiss if I did not applaud the author for her attention to detail and how she cleverly inserted her story into the sordid past.
Despite this, however, I’m afraid that I found The Tapestry to be a surprising disappointment. While I wanted to be whisked away by the same intrigue and drama that I discovered in The Crown (first installment in the series), I finished this last story with a gloomy pout.
The setting is once again the reign of King Henry VIII. After the despicable king has overthrown the Catholic Church, Joanna Stafford finds herself wanting to live a simple life weaving tapestries and quietly honoring her faith. No longer called Sister Joanna, she resolves to make the most of her life by being as pious and good as humanly possible. There is no question that Joanna is still a darling character, and narrator Nicola Barber once again embodies the protagonist with incredible grace.
In The Tapestry, the story kicks off with a very surprised Joanna, who is suddenly summoned by Cromwell himself to leave her humble life and come to court. It appears that King Henry needs her tapestry expertise. Upon her arrival to Whitehall Palace, an attempt is made on her life, and Joanna quickly finds herself in the middle of the King’s court politics. And when the King takes an obsessive interest in Joanna’s close friend Catherine Howard, our lovely protagonist becomes desperately (and rightly) concerned.
And with this, I settled in for a thrilling new Joanna Stafford mission!
Only to be left wanting.
There was no mission. While I patiently waited for intrigue to take over, Joanna’s character started to change. Gone was the sharp-tongued young woman who loved to solve a good mystery, and I suddenly found myself forced to welcome a new version of Joanna Stafford. While older and supposedly wiser, this version of Joanna came across as a confused creature who was meek more often than daring, and who mused over romantic involvements rather than pursuing justice. I started to wonder if this novel had actually switched genres. Was I reading historical fiction, or romance? Where was Joanna’s fire and curiosity? Why did she seem to be perpetually whining? What happened to the character that I adored in The Crown?
Did Joanna discover who wanted to kill her? Yes. Did she come to a romantic conclusion? Yes. Did she save Catherine Howard from her fate as the 5th wife of King Henry VIII? Of course not, since the purpose of this book is not to change history. But in the midst of these story lines, I could not shake the feeling that we were racing toward inevitable ends, while missing the opportunity to become enthralled with the journey. While The Crown was a page burner, The Tapestry was more of a simmer. The characters in The Crown were colorful and clever, while The Tapestry brought forth people who paled in comparison.
This is not to say that this book is not worth your time. I do believe that Nancy Bilyeau is a marvelous and gifted author. The way she constructs her stories in the middle of history is wonderful. Anyone who loves history will appreciate her attention to detail. I’m just afraid that in the case of The Tapestry, I was not in the mood for any syrup. As sweet as Joanna is, I was ready to root for a more forceful heroine.
2.5 stars for The Tapestry.