The Steel Beneath the Silk (Emma of Normandy Trilogy)

Written by Patricia Bracewell
Review by Ilysa Magnus

In this glorious conclusion to Bracewell’s Emma of Normandy trilogy, Emma becomes an even greater, wiser, savvier queen than ever she was in the two previous novels.

Focusing on the years 1012 to 1017, Bracewell leads the reader through the triumphs and defeats of the English against their mortal enemies, the Danes. During those harrowing years of war, starvation and death, Emma stands strong, steeled against those who would shred her kingdom and kill her children, creating alliances whenever possible, and suffering terrible personal loss. History tells us of the eventual English defeat by Cnut, but this isn’t dry, pedantic history. Bracewell takes us on that perilous journey with Emma, embellishing when necessary to create drama, but clearly having done what is a scholarly amount of research, often where sources are contradictory or virtually nonexistent.

While King Aethelred is old and weak of mind and body, Emma is a force of nature, recognizing political realities and surrounding herself with wise advisors. She realizes on a visceral level that the King’s allegiance to traitors like Eadric and his fear of overthrow by his own sons will ultimately lead to his defeat. But there is only so much that Emma, with her devotion to her faith and belief in the English, can do to alter the arc of history.

Emma’s eventual marriage to Cnut—where she becomes his most important advisor and a queen twice over—is a perfectly choreographed dance. It is also a pleasure to see Cnut send his wicked handfasted wife, Elgiva, on her way. Bracewell does a masterful job in creating this arch-villain whose only goal is to wear a crown. I truly hated that woman!

A perfect conclusion to a brilliant trilogy—a great read!