Emma of Normandy never suspects that she’ll be married before her sister – or that she’ll be sent north to England to wed King Ethelred, an aging monarch who disdains her immediately on her arrival. Emma’s life on arrival in England is far from what she thinks a marriage should be like. Her husband doesn’t respect her and she misses her family and all that is familiar from home. Worse, her husband’s seven children stand between her offspring and the throne of England. But Emma soon realizes that the only power she or her children will ever have is that she can seize herself, and the sooner the better.
Queen Emma is a fascinating historical figure. I’ve spent a small amount of time studying her life, though not in any great detail, enough to know what generally happened to her. It wasn’t long before I realized that Shadow on the Crown was covering only a tiny fraction of her life, because it went into much greater detail and imagined things I’d never considered before about the start of her life. While this part is often skimmed over in favor of her later life, I was riveted by Bracewell’s narrative and re-imagining of Emma’s young married life. I want to emphasize that a lot of this is imagining, and Bracewell includes the very useful author’s note so we can see where she’s changed history to better suit her narrative.
As I would have imagined, really, life in a foreign land as depicted here isn’t easy, especially when Emma is descended from England’s enemies, the Vikings. The Vikings were a scourge on England’s coast throughout Ethelred’s reign, so it’s no surprise that her relations to them cause distrust and unhappiness – even more so when a young, foreign queen marries an older king and ruins the chances for English women. Not only that, but while she doesn’t expect her husband to like her, he doesn’t even respect her, and he mistreats her frequently. It was easy to get attached to and feel for Emma, and I liked how the author put little hints in regarding where the story was going to go in the future.
I also felt that the author gave readers a great sense of what life might be like under a Viking siege. At one point, the characters’ lives are at risk, with events taking a terrifying turn. It was easy to understand how terrified they were and why some of them took the actions they did. Bracewell doesn’t use this event just for the sake of gratuitous violence, but actually uses the events of the raid to further the plot along. Several characters experience key events that help us understand their characters better and which will make a lot of sense going down the line.
Though by no means an entirely positive tale of a young queen, Bracewell’s ideas shed a lot of light on how Emma became the women she was later on, and I’m greatly looking forward to finding out how she fleshes out Emma’s story and reveals the multiple facets of her life as we go along. Recommended!
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