Although I have been a devotee of historical fiction for decades, this book made me fall in love with the genre all over again! As a lifelong Anglophile, I have previously chosen novels mostly from the time of King Henry II (1133-1189) to the present. SHADOW ON THE CROWN is the first time I’ve read about Emma of Normandy (984-1052) and was delighted to immerse myself in an entirely new period. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
As the daughter and sister of the powerful Dukes of Normandy, and like all women born into nobility, Emma’s marriage was always going to be determined by males in her family, as a way to enhance the wealth or prestige of the family. And so Emma was sent away to England to become the second wife of the much older, King Aethelred the Unready (966-1016) — a suspicious, brutish, and sometimes violent man who already had a pack of ambitious, grown sons. Despite Emma’s efforts, and not surprisingly, it’s not a happy marriage.
This is the first book in this author’s three-novel series about Emma’s life, covering Emma from childhood to the birth of her first son (later known as Edward the Confessor 1003-1066). If you know your English history, you know where this is headed. Aethelred’s inept governing makes him a target of both rebellious nobles in the North and Viking King Sweyn Forkbeard (963-1014) of Denmark and Norway. Conflict is coming.
What I so love about historical fiction is the way it turns dry facts from history into living people. Good authors create characters who behave just like we do. Facing challenges, learning to live with the consequences of their decisions. And this novel skillfully breathes life into a host of characters, including Aethelred, Emma, Aethelred’s oldest son Aethelstan (982-1014), a scheming lady-in-waiting (Elgiva) and her family, and many secondary characters — all are multidimensional and believable.
Since little is written about this time period, Patricia Bracewell had the opportunity to create much of the story, as she explains in her Author’s Note. I, for one, loved what she did with these little known historical figures. And I enthusiastically recommend this novel and now plan to go on to read the rest of the series.
Part II is THE PRICE OF BLOOD.
Part III is THE STEEL BENEATH THE SILK.
More about the author, Patricia Bracewell.