Bracewell’s extensive research adds convincing realism as she expertly details hard choices, secret loyalties, and brutal murders. While Bracewell focuses intently on the battle scenes and the changing landscape of allegiances, she also breathes life into her characters, giving them singular voices and emphasizing how broken promises of fealty impact relationships –and sometimes influence history. The concerns of her 11th century cast will resonate with historical fiction readers today.
Bracewell brings the lives of the novel’s women into sharp focus. Though Æthelred often discounts Emma’s opinions, other men respect her, as evidenced by her love for Æthelred’s oldest son from his previous marriage, Athelstan. Despite the knowledge that her desires are subservient to the demands of Æthelred, Emma works within the societal constraints to exert her influence and ensure the survival of her children. Bracewell examines the cunning of Elgiva, whose power over Cnut is limited by a marriage not blessed by the church, while Elgiva plots to continue to be important to Cnut, hoping that she will one day become queen herself. The efforts of these women to influence their destinies despite the control exerted by the men in their lives is an essential thematic element throughout the novel.
Takeaway: An 11th-century English queen seeks to make her mark in the world while ensuring her family's survival amid the dangers of war.
Great for fans of: Carol McGrath’s The Handfasted Wife, Donna Woolfolk Cross’s Pope Joan.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A