The Price of Blood
In this, the second in an anticipated trilogy (following Shadow on the Crown, Issue 63) about the life of Emma of Normandy, wife to King Aethelred, Emma is in an increasingly treacherous position, jockeying between her husband’s demons and his very real Viking enemies while desperately trying to protect her children’s lives.
Aethelred believes that almost everyone is trying to seize his throne – the ghost of his brother, his own earls, his own sons, Emma’s Norman brother – and that’s without considering the marauding Vikings who are destroying English cities and the countryside. When Aethelred comes to believe that one of the most powerful of his earls is planning a marriage between his daughter, Elgiva (who is treacherous enough on her own and plays a major role in this installment!) and the Danish throne, Aethelred murders the entire family – he thinks. What he doesn’t know is that Elgiva survives and marries Cnut, son of Swein Forkbeard, in order to support the Viking cause – the only way in which Elgiva can wreak vengeance upon the king she hates.
At the same time, Emma is quietly solidifying alliances between church and state, between warring factions in Aethelred’s own court, to ensure that her son grows to adulthood and that England survives the Viking onslaught. Aethelred clearly despises Emma for the power she wields, but she is not a shy child-bride any longer.
Using the entries from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to frame her narrative, Bracewell does a masterful job in recounting a period in English history shrouded in mystery and intrigue. The female characters in particular are as flesh and blood – from the poisonous evil of Elgiva to the growing wisdom and equanimity of Emma – and they are a joy to read. Highly recommended even as a stand-alone, although I would recommend reading in order just to savor Emma’s growth as a character.