Middling debut novel of the Middle Ages.
A sort of wrinkle on Tristan and Iseulte and based on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bracewell’s yarn centers on a 15-year-old noblewoman named Emma of Normandy who is married off to King Æthelred of England to cement various bonds across the Narrow Sea. (The year is 1001, so we still have a couple of generations to go before the Normans come a-calling in number.) England is a Beowulf-y place full of Angles and Saxons and Jutes and Vikings, the last of whom are causing an awful fuss, what with their looting and pillaging; to complicate matters, Emma finds herself instantly at odds with tough-nut Lady Elgiva, who considers the crown her destiny and has no end to her schemes. Isolated in court, paid no mind by her putative husband, Emma does what any self-respecting Norman would do—suffice it to say, this involves disrupting the line of succession. There are some nice moments in the narrative, and Bracewell does a good job of capturing the tenor of a medieval court and its endless intrigues. But the overall feel is musty, the writing ranging from stately to stale, as with this too-typical passage: “Now, though, Athelstan found it worrisome that Ealdorman Ælfhelm and the other great lords of the land remained with the king in Winchester while the eldest æthelings had not been summoned.”
A serviceable bit of historical fiction, but for all its twists and ligatures, it’s no Once and Future King.