Published in February, Patricia Bracewell’s debut book, Shadow on the Crown, is fresh out of the oven, and it’s a romp of a book from beginning to end. It has Viking raiders, a beautiful and clever queen, a foolish, distrustful and cruel king haunted by the ghost of his murdered half-brother, a handsome prince who falls in love with his father’s wife, and a devious young noblewoman who wants to be queen herself.
Duke Richard of Normandy has brokered a deal with the English court of King Ethelred in which Emma, his sister, will marry the king. In exchange, he will close the Normandy coast to Viking pirates who use it as a launching pad to attack England. But Ethelred must agree to crown her queen.
In 1002, sixteen-year-old Emma sets out for England and her new life. She is faced with a king who shows her no kindness and who resents the stipulation that she be crowned queen; three aethelings (or princes) who distrust her; and the treacherous ealdorman of Northumbria. The plucky teenager, however, does make friends at court, and she wins over the English people with her generosity. Meanwhile, she must give birth to a son to secure her position.
The threat of Viking attacks always hovers. King Ethelred does little to help quell that threat except buy off King Swein of Denmark, thus burdening the English with more taxes. When Ethelred orders the secret attacks on all Danes living in England, now known as the St. Brice’s Day Massacre, everyone braces for Swein’s revenge. His sister was one of those innocents murdered.
If you like historical novels in the vein of Phillipa Gregory, Jean Plaidy, and Sharon Kay Penman, you should enjoy this. Shadow on the Crown is based on true events recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which Bracewell has embellished. Emma’s position in England is important historically because it leads to the conquest of England in 1066. Her nephew, Duke William of Normandy, uses his familial relationship to her as his claim to the English throne.