In A HOLLOW CROWN, Helen Hollick novelizes the young life of Emma of Normandy, wife to Aethelred Unraed and Cnut, two kings of England. This book is a prequel to HAROLD THE KING, which I read late last year, but was written afterwards. Not surprisingly, Emma’s life is fascinating, and Hollick does a good job with her growth from young teenage girl given in marriage against her will to powerful Queen. Her transformation is believable and I liked her, acknowledging what effect the impact of her sometimes difficult life must have had on her.
This book is an improvement over HAROLD; Hollick’s writing has either improved or she has gotten a better editor this time around. The stories are both fascinating. I like how Hollick takes history as we know it and keeps it valid, not changing anything but filling in the holes, which is in my opinion exactly what historical fiction should do. With the Anglo-Saxons, this is fairly easy as there aren’t many facts to handle, but Hollick does a good job and makes us feel like we can step into their world, something that I rarely experience as few are interested in this fascinating period. I like how she ties in the next book, leaving dangling threads that I know are picked up.
Emma was an admirable woman; she survived a great deal to emerge powerful and with authority. Hollick has done a good job making her into an admirable character as well. The book is long and sometimes drags, understandable considering how long Emma’s life is, but could probably have been spiced up by skipping some of the slow parts. With a better editor and some better pacing, Hollick could become one of the genre’s finest.