City of Ladies: The Cross and the Crown, Book Two

Written by Sarah Kennedy
Review by Shannon Gallagher

Sarah Kennedy’s second novel follows the lives of the former sisters of Mount Grace after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Catherine returns as the protagonist, but we now find her married to William Overton, making her Lady Catherine Overton, as well as a new mother. She is joined by another familiar character, Ann Smith, who serves in Lady Catherine’s large household but remains a close confidant and true friend.

Catherine remains loyal to her former sisters, and her social status allows her to include the former nuns within her household, forming a protective circle for these women that society had cast to the wind. Coming across the book Le Livre de la Cité des Dames, which was written by Christine de Pizan in 1405 to demonstrate the important contributions women have made to society, refute the equation of women with sinfulness, and instill self-worth in her female readers, Catherine realizes that she has formed a city of ladies she will fiercely fight to protect.

Catherine’s ambitious husband has arranged for her to serve at Hatfield House in service to the Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth, despite the fact that she has recently given birth and on the eve of their departure a member of her city of ladies, a former nun, is found murdered. After Catherine settles into service at Hatfield, the murders continue to escalate. Catherine finds herself torn between duty to Crown and husband and her loyalty to and love for her friends. She also knows that few will come to their aid if she fails them.

Kennedy has turned out a wonderfully creative follow-up to The Altarpiece. Rather than expound on the story from the first novel, Kennedy populates the second with the strong characters she developed there but propels them into a murder mystery. A true page-turner.