Shadow on the Crown

Written by Patricia Bracewell
Review by Ilysa Magnus

In this, the first installment of a contemplated trilogy, debut author Bracewell deftly explores the formative years of Emma of Normandy’s life, from her marriage as second wife to Aethelred of England in 1002 to the birth of their first child in 1004 (who ultimately became Edward the Confessor) and Aethelred’s decision to name Edward his heir in early 1005, supplanting all of his six living sons.

Emma is but 15 when she arrives in England, a pawn in the political machinations of her brother, Richard, Duke of Normandy, who straddles the line between the English and the powerful Danes. Emma learns to tolerate Aethelred’s brutality, womanizing and apparent distaste for her, recognizing that, without a child – and preferably a boy – she is vulnerable to Aethelred’s will. As Aethelred, haunted by memories of the murder of his brother Edward, becomes less potent as a ruler, his people are overrun and devastated by Swein Forkbeard’s Danish hordes. Harbingers, ghosts, ill omens – these are all part of the culture, and this book. Bracewell does not pretty up the brutality of Anglo-Saxon life.

Bracewell’s portrayal of Emma, from mere child to beloved queen, is a real tour de force. Not merely are the characters fully fleshed out, but the story moves ahead apace. The historical research is solid and, although Bracewell admits to taking some license with it – as an example, Emma’s relationship with Athelstan – there is nothing jarring about it. Emma’s story, commissioned by her in 1040, stands as a monument to a woman who recognized her own historical significance, stature that is reinforced by the The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Frankly, I can’t wait until the second installment of Emma’s life is published. A five star debut!