The Forever Queen

Written by Helen Hollick
Review by Ann Chamberlin

The Forever Queen follows the career of Norman lady Emma from the time she is married at thirteen to Anglo-Saxon Aethelred “the Unready” in 1002 to the death of her son Harthacnut, king of Denmark and England in 1042. Upon the death of Aethelred, as unsuccessful a husband as he was a king, she marries the Danish invader Cnut, a much happier liaison, and between the two, births three sons and two daughters among whom are found two kings, one would-be king, and the wives of the Holy Roman Emperor and lords of Mantes and Boulogne. Plenty of material here for the door-stop length of what was called in its original UK publication The Hollow Crown (this is a revised edition) and what is poised to continue into at least a trilogy leading up to Hastings. As a minor character in The Forever Queen, we do get to meet a young bastard Duke of Normandy, Emma’s great-nephew, named William.

“Emma… looked at the man who was to be her husband, and knew, instantly, that she disliked him.” How’s that for an opening hook to the first chapter? Though given a cast of scores, if not hundreds, of characters, the storytelling rarely misses a beat. Hollick is a master at making each historic scene come alive in the mind of a character with the most to lose. Short chapters, too, are an aid to pacing. They keep the reader moving rapidly, always wanting more, keeping the light on for just another page. Even the point-of-view hopping – allowed in UK novels although rarely in the US – works to her favor. We’re down in the rich, tasty, sugary sludge of historical fiction here, to my mind, the best the genre has to offer.