First Lines: She made a circuit of the clearing among the oaks, three times round and three times back, whispering spells of protection. There had been a portent that night: a curtain of red light had shimmered and danced across the midnight sky like scarlet silk flung against the stars.
Ok, I want to start with a small disclaimer her that this isn’t technically YA. However, for a long time, I thought it was because our protagonist is a teenager the whole time. So…yeah. And based on the fact that this is a based-on-real-history historical fiction wherein an actual 15-year-old girl finds herself Queen of England, well, I thought it deserved some mention.
The year is 1002 and 15-year-old Emma of Normandy has been sent to marry the much older King Aethelred of England. It’s not the future she envisioned for herself, but Emma knows her duty to her family. But from the moment Emma arrives, she realizes this is going to be harder than she ever imagined. She doesn’t meet her husband until the actual wedding, and the man immediately distrusts her. Her new stepsons resent her. Rivals are fighting to push Emma away from the king. Determined to stand her ground and show her worth, Emma slowly wins over the English people and begins forging alliances with powerful advisers. Even then, though, it may not be enough. For Emma is falling in love with someone who is not her husband and the constant threat of Vikings could destroy the country before he has a chance to do anything.
I’m a big fan of historical fictions and, I’m finding, especially learning about the time before the Norman Invasion and the reign of William the Conqueror. This was perfect for that.
Emma is only 15 when she’s sent across the water to England to marry King Aethelred, a man about 20 years her senior. Whip-smart and clever, Emma may be out of her depth in terms of power and understanding the culture (temporarily), but she’s clever enough to figure it out quickly on her own. That was a lot of fun to read.
The history and the fiction are expertly combined. Accounts from actual contemporary sources are used throughout the story to introduce the next part and it’s so cool to see how Bracewell put her own spin on it. There’s always far more to history than meets the eye, and I loved that she tried to go beyond the obvious while still staying true to source by giving people other motives.
I also enjoyed how this story really has four narrators to really give a full view of what was going on and why. There’s Emma, Aethelred, Athelstan (Aethelred’s eldest son), and Elgiva (Emma’s rival for political power). Three of these four are teenagers. It was really cool to see how they all were woven together to create a bigger picture. It was well done.
It was easy to fall into this story and not difficult at all to keep with it. I read this very quickly.