The eleventh century has dawned and England faces many challenges. The Vikings continue to raid the coasts, leaving large swaths of destruction. The kingdom’s nobles remain unruly and plot against the crown as often as support it. King Æthelred’s wife has died leaving him with plenty of children but his nobles pressure him to marry again. Looking for a bride who will strengthen his country, he looks to the Vikings’ allies along the French coast, the Normans. The Viking king has also been looking there for a bride but the Duke of Normandy opts to see his sister become Queen of England. So, Emma of Normandy goes to England to marry Æthelred. Can Emma act as a peace weaver between her brother and her husband? Can she bear a son? Can she avoid the plots aimed at her death or dishonor?
Patricia Bracewell writes historical fiction the way it should be, something I rarely find. It helps that she has chosen a period which has enough written sources to build a plot but a scarcity of detail to allow plenty of room for fictional development. Shadow on the Crown offers a window into the Dark Ages (Middle Ages, Medieval period… call it what you will). Bracewell does a beautiful job describing the society and mindset of the past. The historical details remain consistent with the existing records of the period. Even more enjoyable, Bracewell uses many of the Old English words and names providing plentiful flavor from the eleventh century.
Best of all, Bracewell has developed multi-dimensional characters who leap from the page, drawing the reader into the story. The plot moves rapidly as Emma gets drawn deeper and deeper into English politics. The tale contains a slight flavoring of the supernatural, completely consistent with the superstitious beliefs of the time. In fact, the characters appeared almost too skeptical and rational for the time period. Of course, we do not know how the average person thought about religion or the supernatural during this period. The primary written sources come from the church. So while it felt to me like the characters could do with a slightly bigger dose of supernatural thinking, I cannot fault the author for choosing a different direction.
Shadow on the Crown is the best historical fiction I have read in several years. I salute Bracewell for doing such a marvelous balancing act between history and fiction. The book held my attention from beginning to end. I had only one complaint. Some of the word choices, especially in dialogue, used modern phrases that felt jarringly out of place with the historical context. It happened rarely but the few times it did, I found it distracting. Despite that, I look forward to the next book in this trilogy!
Sara Drake has been an avid reader since a young age. She has both a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and a Master’s in History.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Viking Adult. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.