The Steel Beneath the Silk – by Patricia Bracewell – independent book review – Historical Fiction (Britain, England, Denmark)

THE STEEL BENEATH THE SILK is the NEARLY perfect final installment of a three-novel series from Patricia Bracewell on Emma of Normandy (984-1052), twice Queen of England. NEARLY because this book ends with Emma’s marriage to Cnut the Great (990-1035), which leaves me itching to know what happened during the last 35 years of her life. (And unfortunately, I’m unaware of a fourth novel in production.) Awarded five stars on Goodreads.

This award-winning* novel covers Emma’s life between 1012 and 1017, an era in English history I knew little about before reading this trilogy. Working with limited historical documentation (after all, who wrote about women back then?) and in a period of continually shifting loyalties, the author has skillfully crafted a multi-dimensional heroine with a life full of drama and difficulties. Same with the other major characters — the troubled Aethelred the Unready (978-1013), the thoughtful Cnut, the passionate Athelstan, the conniving Aelfgifu, the treacherous Eadric, and others. All are distinctive, believable, and just like people we all know today.

Of the three novels, I found this the most suspenseful. At the start of this story, Emma is still married to the ailing and suspicious Aethelred. By the end, she has just married the Viking warrior Cnut. (And there’s another King in between.) As in the previous two novels, Emma ever remains the consummate Queen — supportive to her husbands (regardless of how satisfactory those relationships might be), putting the well-being of her subjects ahead of her personal desires, and attempting to be helpful and strategic in trying situations. You can probably tell I came to love her, which is the chief reason I want more novels covering the final years of her life.

Author Patricia Bracewell

Don’t be concerned that the language of such a long-ago era will be difficult to follow. Although the author does weave in terms from this period, she also provides helpful references at the beginning of the book —a list of characters, a glossary of terms, and a few maps. Though honestly, I did not often find the need to use any of them. Simply too absorbed in the plot.

I will now go on to read more about Emma and hope for other books from Bracewell. I highly recommend reading the entire series in order.

More about the author, Patricia Bracewell.

You may be interested in my reviews of the two previous books in this trilogy:

Shadow on the Crown

The Price of Blood

*First Place, Best in Category, 2021 Chaucer Book Awards


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