A nun searches for answers in 16th-century England in ‘The Chalice’

"The Chalice"
Joanna Stafford returns in “The Chalice.”

This sequel to “The Crown,” Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel, brings back Joanna Stafford, a headstrong nun faced with a dramatic fate at a young age: to fulfill an unclear prophecy. And Stafford is here to stay – Bilyeau signed on to write a third book last month, making this series a trilogy.

“The Chalice” follows Stafford as she leaves her oasis of Dartford, a small town hours from a major city, to travel to London and abroad in search of answers. Stafford seeks not only to unlock the prophecy, but also whether she should fulfill it at all.

Major characters of the era appear including, of course, King Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, all told through the lens of a woman who only ever wanted a quiet life devoted to her faith.

How do you write? How do you transplant yourself into this time?

I’d take my laptop and go to the Cloisters museum, and I would try to write in there because they have recreated 14th- and 15th-century French monastic rooms, and Dartford Priory was built in that period. So as long as my battery would hold up and the guards wouldn’t chase me out, I would sit in various corners and write.

You traveled to England for research – what was that like?

They demolished the priory just like in the book. There is still a gatehouse from that period. I walked the perimeter, and it was very emotional to feel that all these women had been there and lived these lives, and that maybe I would help that they would not be forgotten.

With so many books written about this era, did you feel like you had to have a really unique idea?

I wanted to do a thriller. That was important to me. I thought I wanted to do that more than anything else, and then I decided what period to set it in.

What do you love about Joanna that you wanted to see her through another adventure?

I was very determined to write a woman who was different from most standard historical characters. I wanted her to be independent and intelligent but not perfect. She has a bit of a temper, she’s a bit impulsive. I’ve had people say that they love her but they want to go into the book and shake her. I wanted to create someone who was flawed but who had an urge to always try and do the right thing.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison


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