Friday, March 29, 2013

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

After entering countless goodreads contests, I won my first book: Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell. I was thrilled! This is a fictionalized account of the life of Emma of Normandy, who became Queen of England twice, first by marrying Athelred the Unready and then the conquering King Canute. This all takes place in the early turn of the millennium, starting in 1002 in Bracewell’s novel, with the sixteen-year-old Emma being sent to wed the nasty King Athelred.

Athelred is significantly older than Emma. He already has six sons by a previous wife, and he is marrying Emma only for political reasons, to make a treaty with Normandy that he hopes will keep the Danes from England’s shores. He uses Emma as a hostage, treating her with the same disdain and mistrust that all his counselors and subjects receive. Athelred is a troubled man. He gained his throne as a boy after his elder stepbrother, Edward, was murdered–most people believe that Athelred's mother was responsible for plotting Edward’s murder. The rumors are true, and Athelred did nothing to warn his brother of what was to come. Guilt and his own ineffectiveness as a king have driven him more than half mad. He takes out his frustration and fear on his new wife and his sons.

Emma struggles to deal with the realities of her new life in the strange land with a husband she quickly learns to despise. She is able to make a few friends--most importantly, Athelstan, the king’s eldest son and heir. Athelstan has all the intelligence and steadiness that a king should have, everything his father does not.

Unfortunately, the only way for Emma to have any real standing in England is for her to produce a son. Once she does, the son will become a rival for the throne. She and Athelstan are aware of the difficulties that could cause for their relationship, but so long as there is no baby, there is no threat to Athelstan’s inheritance unless it comes from outside England.

At the same time, Athelred’s unending missteps have brought the wrath of the Danes upon England. Their leader, Swein Forkbeard, is determined to add England to his list of conquests, and it seems Athelred will be powerless to stop him.

Bracewell does a good job imagining the lives of these characters and places them in a vividly realistic, often brutal, historical setting. I’d recently read The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick and enjoyed seeing a different take on the same storyline. Shadow on the Crown covers a shorter segment of the queen’s life, taking us only into 1005. I suspect a sequel is in the works, since Emma’s life becomes increasingly exciting from here.

 The historical fiction challenge 2013 is hosted by Historical Tapestry.


  1. The subject is new to me and I'd certainly like to read this one. Thanks for the review.

  2. I am so excited to read this book! I know almost nothing about the time period so it would be brand new to me!

  3. I really enjoyed this book, too. I'm looking forward to the next installment. I believe the author intends this novel to be the first in a trilogy about Emma.