The Price of Blood (The Emma of Normandy Series, Book 2) by Patricia Bracewell
I have a confession, I read this book having no idea there was a first book in the Emma of Normandy series. So I shall be reading that shortly! But this book starts in the thick of it and so I would recommend reading this series in the correct order!
Anyway, this is the second book about Emma of Normandy, set in 1006 AD. The book begins when she has now been made Queen of England, alongside her ageing husband King Æthelred who married her to try and pacify the Norman invasions (by the way, get used to a lot of names like this! It’s so confusing, there’s Æthelred, Athelstan, Ælfhelm etc.). She has also just given birth to her first child, a son, called Edward.
You can tell from the start this marriage was definitely not a love match. Emma is beautiful, kind and wise in contrast to her husband who is portrayed as cruel, cowardly and determined to keep Emma from her beloved son. So, Emma constantly finds herself a pawn in the King’s game. Her only friends, the King’s eldest son Athelstan, a man we suspect she truly loves, and the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot help her win favour in her husband’s eyes.
When the King is struggling to keep control of his realm and the Danes are continuously attacking towns across England, leaving a trail of destruction. Emma is struggling with being BOTH a Queen and mother as she finds herself rejected from her husband’s side and often in danger’s way.
Then, enter another key women in this tale, Elgiva (sometimes known outside this book as Ælfgifu – again with these names!!). She is the daughter of Ælfhelm who was an Earl – or some sort of powerful nobleman – of southern Northumbria. She is portrayed as a fiesty, seductive mistress that wants to control her own destiny in a world ruled by men. Unlike Emma, she is prepared to take great risks in securing herself as a Queen. The contrast between these two women is great.
When the King believes Elgiva’s father is conspiring against him with the Danes, he murders her entire family in the most gruesome way! Desperate, she flees to the safety of an old family ally. However, she is not beaten yet. Once she’s safe, she finds herself being given as a wife to a Viking Lord called Cnut (don’t misspell his name!!). A passionate relationship between the two begins. Elgiva is headstrong like her husband and they both want the same thing… the crown.
This is where the two women’s path starts to entwine. Emma is Queen of England trying to protect her country whilst Elgiva is now paired to their enemy, Cnut and the Danes. In a country torn by war, little do both women know their paths are going to cross in more and more ways in the coming years.*
The Price of Blood is a great read about two very different women. By the end of the book I still feel the best is still to come, as Emma’s journey has only really started. Also, I would have loved to have seen more about Emma and Elgiva as woman. I am a sucker for love scenes and getting involved in all those relationships that create their characters. This I feel was slightly lacking in places. However, this fast pace book will definitely show a time in history that is so undocumented.
So I couldn’t help myself and I started to read more about this pair of women. After this book, in 1016, King Æthelred dies and Emma finds herself windowed and defenseless. To make matters worse, Athelstan, her love, has also died and is no longer heir apparent. Therefore, the King’s third eldest son, Edmund Ironside, becomes King, but again… not for long. Only six, short, months later Cnut invades England and conquers the throne. This makes him King of England and Denmark together. Suddenly, Elgiva is ‘put aside’ for Emma! What a twist. Emma becomes Queen again. With four sons between the two wives and then when Cnut acquires Norway too… I just think he was greedy… this really shows how chaotic this period of history was.
If you want to read more from Medieval period here are some more books on Medieval Queens:
- Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell: The first book in this series, it follows a young Queen Emma of Normandy as she first meets her new husband, King Æthelred.
- Queens of Conquest by Alison Weir [NEW THIS YEAR!]: A series of famous woman of the Norman period. Such as Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror and Empress Matilda, mother to King Henry II.
- A Hollow Crown by Helen Hollick: This documents Queen Emma of Normandy’s entire life, from Æthelred to Cnut.