Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 09, 2013

In 1002, fifteen­-year-old Emma of Normandy crosses the Narrow Sea to wed the much older King Athelred of England, whom she meets for the first time at the church door. Thrust into an unfamiliar and treacherous court, with a husband who mistrusts her, stepsons who resent her and a bewitching rival who covets her crown, Emma must defend herself against her enemies and secure her status as queen by bearing a son. Determined to outmaneuver her adversaries, Emma forges alliances with influential men at court and wins the affection of the English people. But her growing love for a man who is not her husband and the imminent threat of a Viking invasion jeopardize both her crown and her life. Based on real events recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Shadow on the Crown introduces readers to a fascinating, overlooked period of history and an unforgettable heroine whose quest to find her place in the world will resonate with modern readers.

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Patricia Bracewell's Shadow on the Crown marked my first encounter with Emma of Normandy. The historic record is sketchy at best, so it isn't as if there's a lot of information for those looking to learn more about her, but even the basics were new to me. Naturally this blank slate mentality made it difficult to discern where fact met fiction, but it also made reading the book a unique experience as I was able to really lose myself in the narrative. 

Bracewell's interpretation of Emma is wonderfully dynamic. She is passionate, resilient and astute, but there is a vulnerability in her make-up that rounds out her character and draws on the reader's sympathies. I found the fire and spirit Bracewell folded into Elgiva of Northampton equally fascinating and enjoyed watching the two vie for power in Æthelred's court

I admit Bracewell's depiction of the Anglo-Saxon king didn't make much of an impression on me, but his eldest son is another story entirely. Little is known about Athelstan and his siblings, but the romantic arc she constructed for Æthelred's sixteen year old heir was highly satisfying and speaks volumes about the author who imagined it. 

Finally, I thought the world these individuals inhabited beautifully developed. Though the novel is character driven, the reader is afforded a thorough understanding of the period, the lifestyle of the court, and the political stage on which Emma's story takes place. I personally believe atmosphere an essential factor in any fiction and can't help but appreciate the effort and research Bracewell put into crafting such an authentic setting.

Impossible to put down, Shadow on the Crown captivated my imagination from the start and left me itching to see how things will unfold in future installments of the trilogy. 

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As Norman bride and English queen she would walk a fine line between the interests of two rulers -- her brother and her lord. Both men would demand her fealty. One, at least, would exact a heavy price if she were to prove disloyal.
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