The Price of Blood: A Novel. Patricia Bracewell. Penguin Group (USA). February 2015. 448 pp. ISBN#: 9780525427278.
King Æthelred and Queen Emma rule a divided nation, England, in the year 1066. The King, however, is equally responsible for the chaotic rule within his country as well as the Viking attacks that persist and grow more severe with each passing year. For the King is tortured by the ghostly image of his dead brother, who seems to appear either before or immediately following the increasing disasters that threaten the nation’s demise. The King believes this is his just punishment for the death of that same brother but remains hardhearted and determined to control his sons who vie to one day inherit his throne and Kingdom.
The Queen cannot please the King or his sons, as she is of Norman background and therefore considered a “foreigner.” Add to that the fact that any son she bears would be the heir to the throne, or would he? The King married her for political reasons, readily beds her but increasingly disapproves of the influence she bears in his Court. In his mounting fear and insecurity, any who contest his will become the enemy within or outside of the nation.
Of the many sons of this tyrant, Eadric and Athelstan are most at odds. The King clearly favors Eadric although he warily watches this conniving son who is harder and crueler than the King himself which is saying quite a lot. Athelstan and Emma would be lovers were it not for her marriage and the fact that every breath she takes and movement she begins are observed overtly and covertly. Athelstan would be the better heir but for some reason he is mistrusted at all times by his father.
Add to the spice the machinations of Elgiva, the daughter of one of the King’s nobles who rules an outlying northern province, has been wed to one of the King’s most hated enemies and now she makes a choice that will hopefully gain her the power she craves so desperately but which may doom England in the very near future. She is evil personified, wicked and self-centered to the core.
Emma remains the pivotal figure who displays intelligence, beauty, wariness and cunning, as well as a pure heart. Despite the ill treatment she endures, she remains steadfast in maintaining her own identity and keeping the welfare of England before all else, and that is a phenomenal feat many, many times over throughout this tension-filled, intriguing novel. Villainous characters abound and the battle between the English and Danes looms closer and closer in every chapter, with dire consequences for the English population!
The Price of Blood: A Novel is wonderful historical fiction and Emma is carefully depicted in a realistic, endearing fashion that will delight readers familiar with her place in history and those meeting her for the first time. Highly recommended reading!