Friday, February 27, 2015

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"La force et violence sont plus de la beste que de l'homme. Le droit vient de la plus divine partie qui soit en nous, qui est la raison."

"Force and violence pertain more to animals than to man. Justice comes from the most divine part of ourselves, which is reason."

Michel de l'Hospital (1506-1573) 
Parlementarian, Superintendent of Finances, Chancellor of France
Traité de la Réformation de la Justice, seconde partie

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Poet and the Priory

The Prieré Saint-Cosme. Photo credit: sybarite48
As announced on the website, the Prieuré Saint-Cosme, home of the poet Pierre de Ronsard from 1565 to 1585, has reopened after several months of renovations and archeological work. Located near Tours, Saint-Cosme was founded in the eleventh century to receive pilgims en route to Saint James of Compostella in Spain. Suppressed in 1742, the priory's buildings were either partially dismantled or used for secular purposes. Aerial bombardments during World War II spared only the prior's residence, bits of the chapel, and the monks' refectory. The site came under government protection in 1951 and after renovation, reopened to the public. In the 1980's, over 200 species of roses were planted in nine gardens spread over more than five acres of the grounds, a special tribute to Ronsard and his famous poem to Cassandre:

Mignonne allons voir si la rose,
Qui ce matin avoit desclose
Sa robe de pourpre au Soleil,
A point perdu ceste vestrée
Les plis de sa robe pourprée,
Et sa teint au vostre pareil.

Pierre de Ronsard. Photo credit: Carcharoth
Premier poet of the French Renaissance, Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585) joined the court of François I as a page at the age of twelve and spent the rest of his life in service to king and court. He received the tonsure of a cleric in 1543, which permitted him to benefit from prebends bestowed by his royal patrons. As a founding member of the group of poets known as the Pléïade, Ronsard worked to raise the esteem of the French language and its poetry to levels enjoyed by classical poets. His many works, among them the Odes (1550), Amours (1552), Hymnes (1555), and Elégies (1565), solidified the elegance of the vernacular tongue and established him as France's leading poet by midcentury. He was a particular favorite of King Charles IX and his mother Catherine de Médicis, who granted him the benefice of the Prieuré Saint-Cosme in 1565. Ronsard spent much time at Saint-Cosme during the last two decades of his life and died there on December 27, 1585, after penning his Derniers vers. He is buried in the church.

The prior's house, in which Ronsard lived during his sojourns at Saint-Cosme, now houses a museum dedicated to the poet's life and works. The Prieuré Saint-Cosme and its gardens would a lovely and significant stop on any tour of the Loire Valley.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Winner of THE PRICE OF BLOOD: Amended

Linda, the original winner of THE PRICE OF BLOOD, has already won the book through another contest. She generously offered to allow me to select a different winner for this copy. This time around, the random number generator chose Alison Alexander. Congratulations!

Winners of THE PRICE OF BLOOD Giveaway

The winners of the random drawing for Patricia Bracewell's books have been chosen.

Linda has won a copy of THE PRICE OF BLOOD.

Marsha Lambert has won SHADOW ON THE CROWN.

I will contact the winners by email to obtain mailing addresses for the publisher.

My apologies for the delay in announcing the winners. Thanks to Viking Books for sponsoring the contest and to all who entered. I hope you all find the opportunity to enjoy Patricia Bracewell's marvelous books.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Interview with Patricia Bracewell, Author of THE PRICE OF BLOOD

Today the second installment of Patricia Bracewell's Emma of Normandy Trilogy, THE PRICE OF BLOOD, publishes from Viking Books. A gripping, richly textured continuation of the story that began with SHADOW ON THE CROWN (Viking, 2013), THE PRICE OF BLOOD dramatizes Queen Emma's efforts to protect England from the Viking armies ravaging the kingdom. Patricia has graciously offered to answer some questions about eleventh century history and the crafting of her novel.
1.  An excerpt from a twelfth-century historian, William of Malmesbury, opens the book, describing how King Æthelred was “hounded by the shade of his brother, demanding terribly the price of blood.” Had you located this quotation before you began writing the novel, or was it a later, fortuitous find? From what you can tell, was William of Malmesbury, who wrote 100 years after Æthelred’s death, the first to draw a link between Æthelred’s disastrous reign and his guilt over his brother’s murder, or was this curse, so to speak, acknowledged by Aethelred’s own contemporaries?

I found the Malmesbury quote early on in my research. It was what gave me the idea for a ghost that haunts the king. As to whether William of Malmesbury was the first person to equate Edward’s murder with the disastrous events in Æthelred’s reign, it’s difficult to say. Certainly the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time, Wulfstan, claimed in a sermon that “laws of the people have deteriorated entirely too greatly, since Edgar (Æthelred’s father) died… Edward was betrayed, and then killed, and after that burned…things have not prospered now for a long time…and the English have been entirely defeated…through the anger of God.” So there was definitely a connection drawn between great sin in the land and God’s punishing hand via the Viking raids, and certainly the unpunished murder of a king was one of those sins.

2. You structure THE PRICE OF BLOOD, as you did the first novel of the trilogy, by year, prefacing each section with a corresponding snippet taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. How did you go about fleshing out this rather sketchy record of battles and troop movements? Did the spareness of the account help or hinder your imagination?

The spareness of the account was sometimes frustrating, and I often wished for a lot more information. The Chronicle frequently tells us rather vaguely WHAT happened, but it rarely gives us adequate background. It never says HOW or WHY something occurred. My story, though, is not history; it’s fiction. It’s about people and their relationships with each other, what drives each of them, what they love and what they hate. It’s about jealousy, passion, tenderness, sorrow, regret – human emotions and human endeavors. That doesn’t exist anywhere in the chronicles, so filling in the blanks was really a matter of creating characters that I found believable based on what I knew of the history, putting them in conflict with each other, and taking that emotional journey with them.

3. What aspect of eleventh-century life has proven most difficult to research and how have you compensated for the lack of information?

Trying to discover what an average day in the life of an eleventh-century royal was like was not easy. How large was a royal household? Would the queen know everyone in it? What did she do in the course of a day? The thing is, an average day in anyone’s life is not all that compelling to read about. So a good story has to be about the days that are different, when people are sick, or someone has died, or word comes that a Viking army has invaded Canterbury. So I would highlight little things – women stitching an embroidery, a man stirring honey for mead, the king out hawking – but almost as soon as I described such an activity, I disrupted it with a disaster of some kind. The setting is important. The story is even more important.

4. This novel continues to pit two strong female characters, Queen Emma and Elgiva, daughter of a powerful northern nobleman, against each other, although this time from a distance. How did you strive to meet the challenge of nuancing Emma and Elgiva to prevent them from becoming simple “good girl/bad girl” foils? Was it difficult to keep Elgiva and her antics from overshadowing Emma, who finds herself sorely constrained by the king’s determination to sideline her?

Yes, it was difficult to keep Elgiva from taking over the book! Her scenes are all quite dramatic. One reason for that is because we know nothing about her in those years, so I had a much freer hand in inventing her story than I did with Emma. I also kind of like to torture Elgiva. But she’s tough! She can take it. The nuancing – and I’m thrilled by your description of that – comes from the fact that I’ve given both women back-stories and interior lives. At least, that’s what I’ve tried to do. And neither one of them is all good or all bad. Emma’s motives are purer than Elgiva’s, but she’s not perfect. She keeps secrets from the king, for example; she is at a loss as to how to control her step-daughters; and she sometimes puts her own needs before those of her children. Elgiva is more self-centered, but she’s adept at managing her property and her people, and she’s like a tigress when she wants something. She’s not shy about going after it. Emma is all about duty; Elgiva refuses to behave. They’re both strong women, but they react to adversity in different ways.

King Athelstan of England.
Earliest surviving portrait of an English king.
5. The rift between Æthelred and his son Athelstan continues to grow, especially as Athelstan finds himself supplanted by the king’s advisor Eadric. What aspect of Athelstan’s character intrigues you most? What would you consider to be his greatest flaw?

I suppose the thing that intrigues me the most about Athelstan is his unwillingness to seize his father’s throne. Historically, he did not rebel, although he clearly had strong ties to the northern lords who were dissatisfied with Æthelred’s rule. As a result, I had to come up with reasons why he didn’t make that move, and I explore those in the novel. As for Athelstan’s greatest flaw, I suppose it’s his habit of backing off when things don’t go the way he thinks they should. He doesn’t push his father hard enough or enlist the support necessary to sway the king around to his way of thinking. It sounds strange to say that this is a fault, but Athelstan is not devious enough. He’s too honest in a world where strategy, intrigue and ruthlessness are the keys to success.

6. Oftentimes an author will find herself writing a scene she never set out to write, a scene that flows almost effortlessly and winds up playing a key role in the development of the plot. Did you have such an experience while writing THE PRICE OF BLOOD? Which scene in the book was the most satisfying to write? Which one had you tearing out your hair in frustration?

Honestly, I don’t think I had any scene that flowed even close to effortlessly! One scene that comes to mind as one I didn’t set out to write occurs early on, when Elgiva and Alric are in a wattle and daub hut together. I had no idea what was going to happen there, or where they would go afterwards. They sort of worked it out between them, and I wrote it down. The scene that was the most satisfying to write was the scene in the hunting lodge at Corfe where there is a lot of interaction between the sons of the king. I especially enjoyed writing about Athelstan’s perceptions of his brothers and Edwig’s drunken, smart-ass comments. As for scenes that had me tearing my hair out, there were lots of those, but especially the scenes with the ghost. I wanted each spectral appearance to be similar to the others, yet unique in some way. It was a real challenge.

7. Can you believe you will soon be deep into the third book of the trilogy? What has meant the most to you on this journey?

What has moved me the most has been the response of my family – husband, sons, siblings – who have all loved the book and have been so proud of me. The reactions of readers have meant a lot, too. Many of them have become great fans of Emma of Normandy, and because my goal in writing this trilogy has been to resurrect Queen Emma’s name from the footnotes of history, the many readers who have “discovered” Emma have made me believe that I’m accomplishing what I set out to do.

Thank you, Patricia, for answering my questions, and congratulations on this exciting day! Readers might like to read my review of THE PRICE OF BLOOD. The drawing for a free copy of THE PRICE OF BLOOD or SHADOW ON THE CROWN will be open until February 12, 2015. Enter in the comment stream following the review.


Patricia Bracewell grew up in California where she taught literature and composition before embarking upon her writing career. She has always been fascinated by English history, which led to her studying Anglo-Saxon history at Downing College, Cambridge University. She has two grown sons and lives with her husband in Oakland, California.

If you would like to learn more about Patricia and her books and view the list of her upcoming author appearances, please visit her website and her blog.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Review and Giveaway: THE PRICE OF BLOOD by Patricia Bracewell

The second installment of Patricia Bracewell’s Emma of Normandy trilogy, THE PRICE OF BLOOD (Viking, February 5, 2015), expands and deepens the eleventh century world the author so convincingly recreated in 2013’s SHADOW ON THE CROWN. Using the sketchy summary events of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as her warp, Bracewell weaves a richly detailed, compelling tale of ambition, duty, and forbidden love. As does the best historical fiction, THE PRICE OF BLOOD immerses its reader in a milieu replete with particulars of time and place in order to better examine the essential constants of human nature. As well-researched and beautifully drawn as Bracewell’s Anglo-Saxon England is—the author deserves much praise for the deft assurance with which she evokes Britain’s far past—it is her deeply resonant, finely nuanced characterizations that capture the reader’s interest and heart.

The novel opens in 1006, with the kingdom of England in the direst of straits. Famine stalks the land; illness and accident strike down the king’s sons, one after the other; northern ealdormen, only tenuously loyal to their southern king, grumble and conspire against him. No longer satisfied with bribes, Danish Vikings raid and pillage far inland; full-scale invasion looms. Convinced he labors under a curse for having stolen his brother’s throne, uneasy King Aethelred defies anyone or anything that seeks to break his hold on the crown. Seconded by an upstart advisor as self-serving and ruthless as the Danes themselves, Aethelred shuns the advice, and even the presence, of his sons, his proven allies, and his politically astute Norman wife, Queen Emma. But try as Aethelred might to shunt her aside, Emma refuses to retire. Determined to preserve the kingdom intact for her young son, Aethelred's designated heir, she cultivates a coalition of sympathetic allies and earns the respect and devotion of the English people through her courage and compassion. And little though Aethelred will like it, Emma harbors a secret skill that just might prove the key to England’s salvation—though it could well cost her the trust of the man she loves, the king’s eldest son Athelstan.

Against the surging backdrop of imminent Danish doom, the four viewpoint characters—Emma, Athelstan, Aethelred, and Elgiva, the beautiful, conniving noblewoman set on supplanting Emma as queen—seek to order for themselves the demands of loyalty, ambition and love. Desperate to preserve his seat on the throne, Aethelred sows division among his nobles and sons, endangering the very existence of the kingdom he rules. Athelstan, urged by the king’s dismayed allies to wrest the throne for himself, struggles to define what he owes a father whose disastrous indecision all but assures Danish victory and who has repaid his allegiance by naming Emma’s son as heir. Athelstan’s love for Emma only compounds the cost of continued loyalty to his unstable father. Wily Elgiva, forced to fend for herself after Aethelred cruelly executes her father and brothers, turns to the Danes for help in landing a throne. Her determination to rise by whatever means necessary contrasts sharply with Emma’s devotion to her children, her kingdom, and her vows. But Emma’s selflessness comes at great personal cost, as she can only further her son’s future at the expense of Athelstan’s standing and happiness. With consummate skill, Bracewell stirs the reader’s sympathy for each of these characters and their conflicting desires. A delicious, compelling tension results, for the reader knows all four cannot succeed. Who will triumph and at what price?

Evoking the pagan mindset that persists alongside the kingdom’s official—and threatened—Christianity, themes of curse and prophecy inform the narrative. Aethelred suffers visions of his murdered brother’s wraith and believes his reign cursed to failure. Athelstan repeatedly seeks out a seeress for guidance, only to be told that fire and smoke will engulf England and calamity awaits the king’s sons. Wedded to a prophecy that foresaw her as queen, Elgiva embraces the enemy and the dark arts. Though restricted by her husband’s commands and the conventions of queenship, Emma alone operates unencumbered by preconceived notions of her fate. Relying on her faith and wits to guide her, she forges her own destiny, one that may well decide that of her adopted people. In the forthcoming third installment of the trilogy, we will discover how well she succeeds.

As for author Patricia Bracewell, she has nimbly avoided the curse of the mediocre middle book. One need not be a seeress to predict that THE PRICE OF BLOOD will grow her devoted and appreciative audience and establish her as a premier writer of historical fiction today.

Patricia Bracewell grew up in California where she taught literature and composition before embarking upon her writing career. She has always been fascinated by English history, which led to her studying Anglo-Saxon history at Downing College, Cambridge University. She has two grown sons and lives with her husband in Oakland, California.

If you would like to learn more about Patricia and her books and view the list of her upcoming author appearances, please visit her website and blog.

Viking Books has graciously offered one paperbound edition of SHADOW ON THE CROWN and one hardbound copy of THE PRICE OF BLOOD for giveaway to readers with US shipping addresses (no P.O. boxes, please). A winner will be drawn at random for each book. If you would like to enter the drawings, please leave a comment below indicating which book you desire. If you would like to enter both drawings, please state so. Make sure your comment includes an email address at which you may be reached. Contest closes at 11 pm Pacific Standard Time on Thursday, February 12, 2015. Winners will be announced here on Friday, February 13, 2015. Good luck!