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Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
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Shadow on the Crown

by Patricia Bracewell

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Set in the early 11th century, Shadow on the Crown, the first book in a planned trilogy from debut novelist Patricia Bracewell, follows the early life and reign of Emma of Normandy, wife and queen to two English kings, as well as the mother of two more.

Although Emma is the novel's principal character, and it is from her perspective the story is most often told, the narrative also features the perspectives of Emma's husband, English King Athelred, Athelred's son Athalstan, and Elgiva, daughter of the King's most powerful aldorman. By alternating between these various perspectives Bracewell enables the reader to gain a wider appreciation for the politics and personalities of the English court. While not particularly vibrant, Emma is nevertheless a well-drawn character, one for whom it is easy to feel sympathy given her loveless marriage and the fact she must navigate through a court that, by virtue of her Norman birth, is suspicious of her loyalties. While I liked Emma, it is King Athelred who proves the most fascinating character in this novel. Haunted by the murder of his elder brother, Athelred trusts no one, not even his wife or sons. Despite the increasing severity and number of Viking raids, Athelred remains unwilling to listen to any council but his own and, as a result, puts his kingdom at risk.

As clearly evident in this novel, the 11th century was not a particularly good time to be a woman. Athelred holds little respect for Emma, even though she is his crowned Queen consort, and his dismissal of his young daughters shows what little regard he has for the female sex. Elgiva, the other key female character in the novel, often suffers brutal treatment at the hands of her father and brothers. Despite attempts to exert their influence and insert themselves into the halls of power, both Emma and Elgiva are continually held back by the men in their lives. While Bracewell does a good job conveying certain societal conventions of the age, the novel suffers somewhat given that it doesn't contain a great deal of historical detail. As a result, the book doesn't always give the reader, especially those already familiar with this era, a particularly strong sense of time. While the book doesn't go into great depth when it comes to the political maneuverings of Athelred's court, it nevertheless provides a solid introduction for readers unfamiliar with this period of history.

Well-written and engaging, Shadow on the Crown is recommended to historical fiction readers interested in pre-Conquest English history.

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. ( )
  Melissa_J | Jan 16, 2016 |
I think the author read Stafford's "Queen Emma and Queen Edith. " Am I right? If so, nice to see an HF author using serious academic work. ( )
  lucypick | Sep 23, 2014 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a beautiful change of pace from the over-done historical fiction of the Tudor era. In fact, I've yet to read a novel from the early days of England other than this one, and of course Robin Hood.

Queen Emma is a fantastic character that you can really sink your teeth into, aside from her occasional periods of worry which, I must say, I'm quite sick of in all accounts of historical women, even though I'm sure they were overly prone to them in real life. She's strong willed, and unlike many other women of historical fiction, she isn't terribly conniving. That role lies with Elgiva, who plays her part quite well, even if, in the end, she really is a minor character for all the trouble she caused. Additionally, I adored Athelstan, although I wish things had turned out better for him.

As for the remainder of the series, I cannot decide if I will continue it, for fear of it becoming like Phillipa Gregory's; I would hate to become bored with the potential redundancy of it all. I suppose only time will tell. ( )
  cebellol | Jul 22, 2014 |
Engaging, well-researched historical fiction about a seldom written-about piece of history. The first in a trilogy, Shadow on the Crown is sure to leave readers eager for the next installment.

A must-read for fans of Philippa Gregory or Hilary Mantel. ( )
  KayMackey | Jan 7, 2014 |
Where I got the book: purchased at a conference. Signed. I know Pat Bracewell from the conference circuit and Facebook.

This was my one buy at the 2013 Historical Novel Society conference because I'd read good things about it on Goodreads. I wasn't disappointed. I don't generally like "kings and queens" historical fiction, but I enjoyed this account of Emma of Normandy's marriage to the king known in modern times as Ethelred the Unready. Possibly because OH THANK HEAVEN it was written in third person past tense, so instead of limiting itself to Emma's immediate viewpoint it brought in events that happened outside the limited women's domain of home and hearth. Also, when Bracewell had Emma or her nemesis, Elgiva, do something adventurous or dangerous, there was a REASON for it, and she built up both characters well enough that their actions were believable. I'm so tired of HF heroines being given flimsy excuses to jump on a horse and ride around the countryside whenever the author realizes there's not enough action.

Elgiva's a nicely three-dimensional counterpart to Emma, although I did find myself wishing they didn't both have names beginning with an E because I tended to mix them up a bit. I wasn't too crazy about Athelstan the Gorgeous (no that's me, not Bracewell) and the doomed love affair; Bracewell's clearly more of a historical writer than a romance writer, and the story was strong enough to hold up without the romantic interruptions.

I loved learning about the period around 1000 AD when the Danish Vikings were raiding English coasts and the English kings had to decide between placating them with money or land or fighting against them. I did feel that this novel brought the age to life for me, and I found myself grabbing my copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles to read the contemporary account for myself. I also found myself wanting to know what happened next and picking up the book far more frequently than usual. There will be more Emma books, apparently, and I'll read them. ( )
  JaneSteen | Dec 31, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670026395, Hardcover)

A rich tale of power and forbidden love revolving around a young medieval queen

In 1002, fifteen­-year-old Emma of Normandy crosses the Narrow Sea to wed the much older King Athelred of England, whom she meets for the first time at the church door. Thrust into an unfamiliar and treacherous court, with a husband who mistrusts her, stepsons who resent her and a bewitching rival who covets her crown, Emma must defend herself against her enemies and secure her status as queen by bearing a son.

Determined to outmaneuver her adversaries, Emma forges alliances with influential men at court and wins the affection of the English people. But her growing love for a man who is not her husband and the imminent threat of a Viking invasion jeopardize both her crown and her life.

Based on real events recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Shadow on the Crown introduces readers to a fascinating, overlooked period of history and an unforgettable heroine whose quest to find her place in the world will resonate with modern readers.


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:16 -0400)

Marrying the much-older king of England in the year 1002, sixteen-year-old Emma of Normandy is surrounded by a treacherous court and regarded as a threat by her husband before drawing on her wits to gain a few friends and protect her station.

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