Patricia Bracewell’s debut historical fiction novel, Shadow on the Crown, commences during the harsh winter of 1001 in Normandy.
Emma is 15 years old and happiest when outdoors riding. Such times are rare.
Danish warrior king, Swein Forkbeard, and his companions are wintering with Emma’s family, who cannot afford the risk of Forkbeard’s ire if he is denied hospitality. Forkbeard and his retinue might be wealthy, but their manners are those of brutal men to whom murder and rape are a way of life.
Emma is Richard, Duke of Normandy’s sister. A visit from an English archbishop and ealdorman changes the course of Emma’s future.
King AEthelred of England has just lost his wife, mother of his 11 children. Their 3 oldest sons await their father’s summons, yet their father remains ensconced with his advisors leaving Athelstan, Ecbert and Edmund to cool their heels and speculate what their father plans. This is especially vital for Athlestan, the oldest son and heir.
The archbishop and ealdorman have traveled to Normandy to arrange a marriage between AEthelred and Richard’s sister. The negotiations, held in secrecy, take weeks.
All expect Emma’s older sister, Mathilde, is the bride. In exchange, Richard pledges to close his Normandy harbor to the Danes, traditional enemies of the Anglo-Saxons.
This poses a problem for Richard as now Normandy will become the enemy of the Danes. Normandy lacks defences and would fall to the Danes easily.
Richard and his mother break the shocking news to Emma that she is destined to be AEthelred’s bride, rather than her sister who suffers ill health.
Emma’s future as bride to a king the age of her father amounts to that of a royal hostage to ensure Richard is faithful to his bond. Her sole consolation is she will be Queen, rather than consort, and protected from AEthelred seizing her wealth and lands.
Emma has many challenges ahead of her: a language barrier; English traditions, Queenly duties, estate management and, most important of all, to bear sons.
Emma is grieved to leave her family and fearful of the character of her yet unmet husband. Her bridegroom fails to meet her on arrival and Emma is filled with foreboding. She already suspects something about AEthelred has purposely been withheld from her.
She soon learns of rumors of the manner in which AEthelred ascended the Throne. An older brother who died along under mysterious circumstances at a young age. AEthelred’s oldest son, who fully expects to be his father’s successor, greatly resembles his dead uncle. The specter of his dead brother haunts AEthelred relentlessly and the sight of his son disturbs him immeasurably.
Emma finds she too is hunted: by Elgiva, daughter of AElfhelm, an ealdorman, who feels cheated of her destiny as AEthelred’s Queen.
A member of Emma’s household, she is determined to undermine Emma, even to the extent of taking AEthelred as her lover. Additionally, her father forces her to spy on Emma and report news of import. Elgiva sets out on her mission with great ambitions, deliberately causing dissent in the Queen’s household.
Discord between AEthelred and his 3 oldest sons burns. If Emma bears a son, as Queen, her son will take precedence over Athelstan as heir. His mother was merely consort to AEthelred, not queen.
Emma’s Norman household members are sent away by a her distrusting husband, while she is kept virtually prisoner.
Over the years Danes have settled in England, but now the paranoid King is determined to rid his kingdom of them – by violence that will cost him dear.
Trapped in a loveless marriage to a brutal, demented man, Emma must somehow endear herself to the mistrustful English people, assert herself as Queen despite conspiracies to the contrary and deny herself the luxury of a forbidden love, all in the hopes of bearing the future king of England and ensuring he inherits England.
The first in a trilogy about Emma, Bracewell’s debut historical fiction novel, Shadow on The Crown, is written in accordance with the times. It was a harsh world at the turn of the first millennium and women had no recourse but to endure whatever their lives, directed by men with little or no feeling towards women’s desires, held.
Brutality, disrespect, fear for their lives, treatment as prisoners and pawns were realities. Emma suffers much, but withstands as best she can within such limitations.
Bracewell does not flinch at the truth of life in the medieval years, writing Shadow on The Crown with the few glories and many tribulations of life. Shadow on The Crown is an exceptional novel, created from Bracewell’s imagination as few primary sources remain extant.
Shadow on the Crown is a powerful and stirring illustration of an era shrouded by mystery. I eagerly anticipate the second novel in the Emma trilogy.
MY RATING: 5/5 Stars (Exceptional)
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