Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

Being the second of only two novels written about Emma of Normandy so far, it’s difficult not to compare this to the first, Helen Hollick’s The Forever Queen. Hollick’s novel is one of my favorites and so it would be difficult to stand up against in my eyes. At the same time, it's difficult to compare them because this novel only covers a portion of Emma's life whereas Hollick's novel covers her whole life.

Shadow on the Crown tells a tale of a strong young woman well groomed for queenship who finds herself a near prisoner of a husband who does not trust her. Her fate is in the hands of her brother, who will most likely put her in jeopardy by breaking his agreement with the English king - an agreement that was sealed with Emma’s marriage. And her attempts to make friends at court are rejected by her eldest wary stepsons and sabotaged by a jealous rival. Her position will be secured and protected if she bears a son but this is also the very thing that threatens her stepson’s positions as heirs. It’s told in third person, from the four points of view of Emma, King Æthelred, his son Æthelstan, and Elgiva (Ælfgifu of Northampton), the daughter of an Ealdorman.

It’s very well written but I don’t think the characters were quite as well done as Hollick’s. The antagonists were pretty one dimensional and I felt like the romance between Emma and Æthelstan was very sudden and unexpected. I don't fully understand what prompted Æthelstan to give Emma a chance and I felt like he did a very quick 180.

I felt like Bracewell took a lot more liberties with the unknown than Hollick did. It worked well for the story but it did make it feel less likely to have really happened. I don't mind authors taking a creative license though, as long as it works and makes sense, which it did, and there is a lot unknown about Emma which the author had to work with.

There's no denying this was a well written and well crafted story that was very enjoyable. Though it’s the first in a trilogy whereas Hollick’s novel on Emma is stand alone (there is a sequel but it does not strongly feature Emma), I’d say being split into shorter novels makes it easier to read and maybe more appealing to the mainstream. I’d still rank Forever Queen higher but I am looking forward to the next in this trilogy from Bracewell.

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