The Northern Queen
Some parts of English history are strangely neglected by novelists and the general public. King Alfred and his successful struggle against the Danes in the 9th century attract a lot of attention, while King Aethelred’s unsuccessful struggle in the 11th century is largely forgotten. The Northern Queen describes how England became part of the Danish empire under King Canute, as told through the story of Canute’s first (handfasted) wife, whom he put aside when he became King of England, in favour of Emma, wife of the previous king, Aethelred the Unready. According to the publisher, this has been ‘meticulously researched’. Maybe, but it has not been meticulously edited. At one point Canute is going to sail from Sandwich ‘up the Humber’. This is impossible, given that the Humber is 250 miles north of Sandwich, and I suspect it should have been ‘up to the Humber’.
Further, there are no dates in the chapter headings so, for instance, we don’t discover until page 65 that the events in the prologue (the massacre of St Brice’s Day, when Danes were killed on the orders of Aethelred) took place in 1002. This is frustrating for the reader. And I could have done with a family tree to help keep track of the members of Canute’s and Emma’s family. That said, the prologue is well written and starts the novel well. But after that there is a lot of repetition of information and, in one particular paragraph, actual repetition of the same phrase. This is not an absorbing book, but it has believable characters, and I learnt a lot about the period.