Tuesday, February 3, 2015
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.
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!