The Constant Queen

Written by Joanna Courtney
Review by Tracey Warr

Elizaveta is the daughter of the Grand Prince of Kiev and betrothed to marry the dispossessed prince Harald Sigurdsson of Norway, also known as Harald Hardrada (the Ruthless). The marriage is a love match, but headstrong Elizaveta is unaware that in Norway another woman, Tora, is also betrothed to Harald and waiting keenly for him. Courtney tells the story of Harald’s contention for the favour of Elizaveta’s father, for wealth and fame, and then for the throne of Norway, from the perspectives of the three protagonists.

This is the second in the series of Courtney’s Conquest Queens novels, describing the lead-up to 1066 from the perspectives of the women married to the three contenders for the throne of England: Harald Godwinsson, Harald Hardrada and William, Duke of Normandy. This is a richly imagined and well-researched story. Courtney evokes the sibling jealousies and affections of Elizaveta’s large family and the atmosphere and appearance of her father’s court in Kiev. She movingly describes Elizaveta’s struggle to bear Harald sons, and her relationship with her rival, Tora. The story is told in simple prose, which often feels rather over simplistic, but Courtney has a nice line in similes: “her dress creased as an ancient’s neck”; “winter lay over Kiev like a kitchen dog over a rat”. Her female characters ring truer than her men, and the story lingers overlong with Elizaveta’s childhood, when it could have effectively spent more pages on her adulthood years with Harald. Courtney creates plausible historical contexts and has a nice sense of place. An enjoyable book, aimed at historical romance readers.