Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

Shadow on the Crown.  Patricia Bracewell. Viking Adult: Penguin Group (USA).  February 2013. 432 pp. pbk. 948 KB – eBook.  ISBN#: 9780143124351. ASIN#: B008EKORX4.

Emma of Normandy was to wait for her arranged marriage until her older sister, Mathilde, had been wed.  Their father and mother, Duke Richard and Dowager Duchess Gunnora, had larger worries with the presence of the Danish King, Swein Forkbeard, docked at the Duke’s winter harbor.  So far Forkbeard had been bought off by the Norman King and King Aethelred II of England.  This will soon change. Spanning a three year period from 1001 to 1004, this is the story of Emma’s marriage to the English King Aethelred II, a man haunted and tortured by the ghost of his dead brother, Edward.  Aethelred is a cruel, hard man who trusts neither man nor woman, believing all to be scavenging for his crown.  His three eldest children have similar hearts of stone, except for Althestan who falls hopelessly in love with Emma but dare not advance beyond one point as he knows his father’s reaction would be ruthlessly fatal.

Another woman of the English Court, Elgiva of Northampton, has her eye on the King of England, not out of lust for his body but for her insatiable craving of power.  She and her maid Groa, a fearsome woman with magical and lethal powers, will betray and kill to gain the ultimate queenly prize.  But the wyrd for Emma and Elgiva is tragic in very different ways that are absolutely mesmerizing.

A seer in the beginning of the novel states that Althestan will win his father’s Offa’s Sword but that the future King of England will be one who has his “hand” in the Queen’s hand.  Althestan has no idea what this means but like his brothers will pay careful watch to see what his own wyrd or fate is to be.

Battles between family, earls, and the Vikings fill these pages with an excitement that provides for a quick, interesting read.  Murder seems a regular method to put aside one’s opponents, the type of killings that cannot be proven.

While the Christian faith is the main religion of England, pagan rites and beliefs lurk in the darkness.  Sin abounds everywhere but it is interesting how the monks and priests of Catholicism have such respect (and fear) from even royalty.  They alone perhaps are advisers who keep the English royalty family of Aethelred from killing each other in their jealous goal for power which they would rashly use if they had it.

Emma, remarkably based on the actual book Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, evolves into a strong, compassionate, fiercely protective and just woman who knows her own strengths and weaknesses and is determined not to allow her new family to change, unless it be stronger. 

Characters interact in an ever-changing plot and customs in which the reader becomes totally engaged.

Shadow on the Crown is wonderful historical fiction.  Highly recommended!

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