Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

BracewellShadowOnCrownWhy I Read It: Early English history, when Vikings still roamed the seas – why not?

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox.

Who I Recommend This To: English and Viking and Danish history aficionados.

Narrator: Katie Firth

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2013)

Length: 13 hours 40 minutes

Series: Book 1 Emma of Normandy

Starting off in late 1001 AD in Normandy at the home of Emma and her siblings, the reader is thrown right away into fine line the Normans must walk between Fork Beard of the Vikings and King Athelred of England. Within a few short months, Emma’s much older brother, the Duke of Normandy, makes the decision to send her, and not her sickly older sister, to wed a decades-older monarch. The marriage is completely political, with King Athelred half convinced that the Normans will no longer provide safe harbor for the Vikings if one of their house is wed into the English monarchy. Emma must make do with a loveless marriage in a foreign culture where her Danish heritage constantly throws suspicions on her motives.

I did not want to put this book away. It’s that simple. My little laptop was my best buddy with this audiobook playing. It accompanied me on all my house chores, while I knitted, even while I showered. I know. I have an addiction, but we aren’t here to talk about that; we are here to talk about this awesome historical book that I requested simply because I knew so little of the time and location. Patricia Bracewell sure does make ancient, dusty, moldering English history riveting, thought-provoking, and worthy of paying attention to.

Emma was so easy to connect with, and so uncomplicated in her desires and motives; yet she was put in this impossible situation where so much was not within her control. Her simple, perhaps even childish, dreams of a loving marriage and safety had to be set aside for bigger considerations. Through it all, she met it with poise and honor. King Athelred, long bedeviled by a sense of guilt over his brother’s death, might finally be loosing it. But in so loosing his wits, he may loose his hold on his kingdom. In his fear and anxiety, he often places unwarranted blame on Emma and forces her into demeaning marital obligations.

Of course, there are also the intrigues and politics of her homeland, Normandy, haunting her. King Ahtelred and her brother, the Duke of Normandy, signed a written agreement that included Normandy no longer provided harbor to the Vikings, who annually ravage the northern coasts of England. Emma is well aware that her brother couldn’t possibly turn away Fork Beard and his horde when they appear in their Viking ships, all bedecked with pointy metal bits, ready to ravage any city or village, English or Norman. This knowledge adds to Emma’s anxiety as she tries to safely navigate the intrigues of the English court.

The King has his favorite bedmates, including the daughter, Algiva, of a wealthy family. Algiva is intelligent, power-hungry, and not afraid to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. However, she is (mostly) controlled by her father and brothers, who use her to forward their rise in power. Algiva is not only Emma’s rival for monarchical affections, but also part of Emma’s household, constantly assisting the Queen in her daily activities. This makes it very difficult, and dangerous, for Queen Emma to culture any true friendships, let alone romance, at the English court. However, the fates have decreed that Emma should fall for a man who is not her husband. This little romance didn’t overshadow the main plot and Bracewell did a nice job of including it but not letting it take center stage.

If I do have any little pet peeve with Shadow on the Crown, it is a minor point. The awkward, sometimes demeaning sex between Emma and Althelred is described not in a great amount of detail, but enough to get the picture. The flirtations and seductions of Algiva are also described to that level of detail. However, the love scenes between Emma and her beau are almost nonexistent. Really – they kissed, the lights went out, they woke in the morning and had a little more kissing before moving on with their lives. So, I won’t ding Bracewell for this because it is prevalent for many authors. We’ll describe the naughty, forbidden, awkward, angry sex in detail; but we won’t show in detail how two loving people get it on. Sigh…. Anyway, it was simply a pet peeve and I still greatly enjoyed this book and I most definitely look forward to Book 2 in the series.

Katie Firth was the perfect voice for Emma, providing a sensible, yet cultured voice. She also provided a lovely vixen voice for Algiva, an angry, dry voice for Althelred, and numerous aged and young voices for the side characters.

What I Liked: History come to life; court intrigue; Vikings causing grief and mayhem; Emma stuck in a difficult position, again and again; King Althelred rules with an iron hand, which may be his undoing; Algiva was a treat to hate; Emma is a skilled horsewoman.

What I Disliked: Equality in love scenes was lacking (very minor point as I so enjoyed this book).

What Others Thought:

Respiring Thoughts

Historical Fiction Notebook

Historical Novel Society

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