Although letter writing may seem like a thing of the past (I still write letters!); the practice was just emerging in the fifteenth century. Letters wAlthough letter writing may seem like a thing of the past (I still write letters!); the practice was just emerging in the fifteenth century. Letters written during this period give us an intricate look into the way of life as these words dictated local, political, and even international affairs versus just the nuances of personal life. The Pastons, a family living in England during the ‘Wars of the Roses’; wrote and kept a plethora of letters which are still extant today giving us an open window into both the family’s and England’s affairs. Editor Richard Barber gathers and presents these writings in, “The Pastons: A Family in the Wars of the Roses”.
“The Pastons” focuses on the content of the family’s letters presented in a pseudo-narrative strain whereby some letters are offered in full, others are quoted, and meanwhile they are explained or set into context. Therefore, Barber doesn’t simply offer a string of letters but instead provides illuminating reading which actually has a lively flow and pace.
The letters chosen by Barber initially highlight familiar and estate affairs versus that of political events but these are not boring and bring a vivid picture of the way of life. The reader will almost feel as though conversing with the Pastons, themselves. This then flows into more eventful letters describing quarrels, battles, law suits, and civil unrest in England. Not only did the Paston family lead eventful lives but they were also involved first-hand with the turmoil taking place in England.
“The Pastons” is perfect for both history lovers and HF fans of the period as the letters are accurate and factual primary sources which are ideal for fact checking but Barber also implores a narrative arc which makes “The Pastons” feel almost like a novel. The work is thus very accessible and easy-to-read versus being overly heady.
Adding some meat to the skeleton “The Pastons” is Barber’s inclination towards detective work and thereby meticulously debunking some hearsay reports. This truly adds to the essence of the work and results in an even heartier read.
The concluding focus of “The Pastons” is well-rounded with letters on various topics from love letters (so romantic!) to disease and politics. The actual ending, however, is quite abrupt. Fortunately, this is met with a pleasing Epilogue explaining the future of the family during subsequent reigns and a brief discussion of the discovery of the letters.
“The Pastons” is not an exhaustive look at the family or letters but it serves as an excellent introduction as well as a resource for the period. “The Pastons” is much recommended for history or even HF fans with an interest in the Wars of the Roses or of the Paston family (for they are often mentioned in texts on the period). ...more
Coat of arms, shields, crests, helmets… This may sound like a day at a medieval tournament. Yet, heraldry is a precise language, art, and even a scienCoat of arms, shields, crests, helmets… This may sound like a day at a medieval tournament. Yet, heraldry is a precise language, art, and even a science. It is one which can denote the entire history, alliances, and structure of families or organizations. Stephen Slater, a leading expert in heraldry, opens up this field to readers in, “The Complete Book of Heraldry: An International History of Heraldry and its Contemporary Uses”.
“The Complete Book Heraldry” is a meshing of a glossy paged, colorful, coffee table book with that of an academic text book. Even though the pages are filled with hundreds of illustrations; the text is not comprised or dummied down. Slater partitions “The Complete Book of Heraldry” by first observing the history of heraldry, the language, and every little element of a coat of arms (field, charges, quartering, labels, etc); while the second section focuses on shields and its uses in various countries in more recent times.
Initially, “The Complete Book of Heraldry” has a somewhat slow start and it can be said that Slater is quite dry in his writing style. However, this picks up as he dives into detailing every little topic and aspect of heraldry. The reader will be fascinated by the extensive coverage and how much is involved in the world of heraldry that is generally not thought upon. Admittedly, this can be overwhelming at times because the amount of information present is engorged. One will feel the need to take breaks to absorb it all while being tempted to take notes.
Slater helps the reader understand the material by providing an abundance of examples both within the text and visually. The graphics and charts are easy to understand in a text book fashion and help break down the headiness. Also helpful is that each topic ends on the bottom of the page. This may seem like a minor detail but it is very helpful to not have to flip back-and-forth. Slater also describes terminology within the text (although a glossary is also provided) so that the reader isn’t expected to already know it all previous to reading “The Complete Book of Heraldry”.
The text in “The Complete Book of Heraldry” suffers from some inconsistencies in writing style and pace. Some pages are written more casually and flow smoothly while the next is slower and dry. This may simply reflect the personal interests of Slater but the up-and-down pace negatively affects the reader.
Much of the book’s content concentrates on England which makes sense due to the author’s career and residential background being England. However, this weakens the aim of “The Complete Book of Heraldry” which claims to be an overall international look.
In the second half of “The Complete Book of Heraldry”; Slater takes a sort of social history approach to the topic by exploring the applications of heraldry by royalty, civic and state organizations, and global ventures. This section is noticeably less illuminating than the former and tends to stray from heraldry focusing on other symbolic means used by the aforementioned groups. This results in slightly tedious reading.
Slater concludes “The Complete Book of Heraldry” with a brief preposition of the field’s future and an explanation of the process involved in obtaining arms. Followed by a glossary; this is a steady wrap up of the subject and helps “The Complete Book of Heraldry” not end abruptly which is the chief error of many books of a similar nature.
“The Complete Book of Heraldry” is quite riveting and enthralling in terms of the plethora of information presented, the glorious illustrations, and well-organized pages. Its only weakness which could detour many readers is its dry, text book-like style; thus making it more suitable for readers with a pre-existing interest in the topic. Regardless, it is impossible to not come away with knowledge gained and a deepened respect for heraldry. “The Complete Book of Heraldry” is a strong piece suggested for all readers with an interest on the topic (even if remote). ...more
Emma of Normandy is best known as the mother of Edward the Confessor despite her own queenly life dramas which are worth noting on their own grounds.Emma of Normandy is best known as the mother of Edward the Confessor despite her own queenly life dramas which are worth noting on their own grounds. Patricia Bracewell returns with the second book in the ‘Emma of Normandy Trilogy’ revisiting Emma, Aethelred the Unready, Athelstan (his eldest son), and the villainous Elgiva in, “The Price of Blood”.
“The Price of Blood” is very similar to “Shadow on a Crown” in terms of structure, style, prose, and essence. Bracewell introduces the cast of characters and even a glossary of terms which is very helpful as “The Price of Blood” follows in its predecessor’s footsteps of alternating chapter view points from character-to-character (you will flip back to the descriptions). In line with this, “The Price of Blood” wouldn’t really work as a stand alone novel and is definitely recommended to be read as a follow-up to “Shadow on the Crown”, as intended.
Bracewell’s novel begins with a somewhat slow start which eventually melts into a faster-paced plot. The story isn’t necessarily as eventful or action-packed as “Shadow on the Crown” but there is still something magical about it which encourages page-turning. Bracewell’s descriptions are vivid and sometimes borderline literary and raw which adds depth to the pages.
“The Price of Blood” is standout on the front that it eschews fluff for a historical/political focus. Yes, there are some magick/spiritual meanderings along with the slight mention of sex and romance but overall the text will satisfy history lovers.
One of the highlights of “The Price of Blood” is Bracewell’s ability to make each character thrive in his/her own personality. Each figure is alive, believable, and unique with individualistic merits. This makes the varied story viewpoints easy-to-read and adds a macro view to the plot versus causing confusion. Although, Emma is once again not as mainstream as preferred but Elgiva certainly expands intrigue in “The Price of Blood”.
As Bracewell’s novel progresses (slightly past the halfway point); the plot thickens and becomes more eventful. Moreover, Bracewell’s interpretations of the possible emotional impacts of events is standout and adds a sort of psychological baring to “The Price of Blood” making the novel more layered and multifaceted than many other HF novels.
The final chapters of “The Price of Blood” are fast-paced and move at a steady pace leading to a solid conclusion that is both a cliffhanger and stirs emotions. Without a doubt, Bracewell leaves readers anxious for the third novel and aching for more.
Bracewell leaves “The Price of Blood” with a sufficient ‘Author’s Note’ explaining her liberties, conjectures, and inspirations. It should be noted that much of “The Price of Blood” is fictional aside from the actual political stirrings which have been chronicled. Yet, the novel is not fluffy and is strongly informative and rooted within the time period. On an aside, a genealogical table would certainly be helpful to most readers.
Overall, “The Price of Blood” is not as strong as “Shadow on the Crown” and feels more like a buildup to the third book from the first. Despite this, Bracewell’s prose is solid, the story is meaningful, and the novel is moving. Although the text may confuse as a stand alone novel; it is a must-read for those whom read the first novel and it definitely builds anticipation for the third. ...more
King John doesn’t have the best reputation. He is known as the “Bad King”…The bad seed as opposed to his brother, Richard the Lionheart. So ‘bad’ thatKing John doesn’t have the best reputation. He is known as the “Bad King”…The bad seed as opposed to his brother, Richard the Lionheart. So ‘bad’ that his actions pushed his subjects and barons to compose the Magna Carta—the predecessor of many modern-day constitutions (so perhaps it is a good thing that John was unqualified!). Stephen Church attempts to explore the foundation building up to the Magna Carta in, “King John: And the Road to the Magna Carta”.
Chruch’s aim with “King John” Is not to rehabilitate John or condone his actions. Rather, the target of the text is to explain the events which led to the Magna Carta and how/why John acted the way he did. “King John” succeeds in this by presenting an even-paced text that is academic but not dry and works as a solid introduction into King John’s reign but with enough detail to satisfy those familiar with the topic. Church’s prose is strong and his writing lacks biases and assumptions making “King John” quite compelling.
There are, however, issues with Church straying from the topic and going into detailed tangents losing his hypothesis begging the reader to ask what he is trying to prove. Sometimes, Church tries too hard to be unbiased and thus “King John” simply reads as a recitation of events a la, “This happened and then that”.
The amount of research is clearly justified in “King John” as Church alludes to documents and household books brimming with detail (although this may be “too much” for some readers). Uniquely, Church stipulates when sources quoted are secondary or written long after the fact which helps the reader gain a well-rounded view but with a grain of salt. Church also employs occasional detective work and cunningly works out how, when, or why an event occurred.
As “King John” progresses, a ‘point’ is seemingly lost as Church does explain events that disgruntled subjects (and thus led to the Magna Carta); but none of this seems dire or that ‘bad’. There have been worse kings before and since King John. Although, perhaps this indication is precisely Church’s goal (even though he says he does not aim to rehabilitate King John). There is also an issue with some repetition and backtracking which momentarily stalls attention.
There is a disconnect between the former portions of “King John” discussing events leading up to the Magna Carta and the sudden jump into exploring the various doctrines. The path is not cohesive and is quite abrupt. This effectively “throws off” the reader in some ways. This can similarly be said about the conclusion of “King John” which lacks emotion even though Church suddenly ties to enforce that John was a tyrant when the entire book never appeared to necessarily agree with that notion.
Some stylistic comments should be noted: “King John” contains various maps; however, they are coded per color shade which is a bit tricky when the map is black-and-white/grayscale. Color plates would also have been welcome (there is an absence of photos). However, the abundance of sources and length of bibliography will satisfy fact-checkers; as will both foot and end notes.
“King John” suffers from some flaws and doesn’t per se achieve Church’s aims. Yet, it is well-researched, detailed, and strong academically while being very readable and not dry. There is ‘something’ about “King John” which makes it quite a good read. “King John” is recommended for all readers interested in English history and I would certainly read more from Church in the future. ...more
Unfortunately, many of us will never step foot into a true, centuries-old castle. Even those who can vacation in these historic spots don’t experienceUnfortunately, many of us will never step foot into a true, centuries-old castle. Even those who can vacation in these historic spots don’t experience the structures in the ways of the people living back yonder (unless you own a time machine!). For these people, Stephen Biesty takes readers inside castles in, “Cross Sections: Castle”.
“Cross Sections: Castle” is intended to strike the fancy of children but certainly appeals to adults interested in the topic, as a sort-of coffee table book. Biesty breaks “Cross Sections: Castle” into main focus topics such as the defense of the castle, architecture, trades, food & feasting, entertainment, etc. This provides readers with a wide view on castles but in a summary method.
The main issue with “Cross Sections: Castle” is the identity crisis the book suffers from. The text comprises of nothing more than a paragraph introduction on the topic and then labels the illustrations; providing easy reading for children. However, the text itself isn’t captivating for children and better connects with adults. The problem is that readers don’t learn much from the text or retain the information.
Naturally, the highlight of “Cross Sections: Castle” are the awe-inspiring illustrations. These hand-drawn, colorful, detailed masterpieces will delight both children and adults with its shedding of castle walls in order to illuminate the inside of the structures. The illustrations are comparable to “Where’s Waldo?” books and are delightful on their own without any text present.
Also similar to “Where’s Waldo?” is Biesty’s creative angle of not only teaching castle facts but installing an ‘enemy spy’ into “Cross Sections: Castle” and encouraging readers to search him out. This adds an element of adventure and participation to the reading.
“Cross Sections: Castle” does contain some unique facts which aren’t overdone or heavily-mentioned elsewhere resulting in some standout moments.
The conclusion of “Cross Sections: Castle” is rather abrupt with no summary or wrap-up leaving an ending lacking any memorable notes. However, a glossary of terms does add a little ‘oomph’.
Overall, “Cross Sections: Castle” is quite nice on the eyes but not necessarily as riveting fact/text-wise as one would hope. The book is great for grade school children interested in the topic in particular; but may bore others. A much better choice would be David Macaulay’s, “Castle”. “Cross Sections: Castle” isn’t bad but not mind-blowing, either. ...more
Nowadays, if a man penned a manual directed to women providing instruction on how to conduct personal and household affairs; one can bet that feministNowadays, if a man penned a manual directed to women providing instruction on how to conduct personal and household affairs; one can bet that feminist groups would have a field day. However, in 1393 this was accepted behavior as women were expected to be submissive (sadly) to their husbands. During this time frame, a 60-something year-old husband wrote a manual for his 15 year-old bride which included exhaustive detail on how she should manage personal and household interactions, religious matters, and even marital intimacy. Tonia Bayard translates portions of this in “A Medieval Home Companion: Housekeeping in the Fourteenth Century”.
The introduction to “A Medieval Home Companion” is valuable to the reading and NOT suggested to be skipped, as it provides helpful information on the nature of the original manuscript and of Bayard’s translation. Bayard explains why she includes some sections over others and also breaks down some areas which could cause confusion.
“A Medieval Home Companion” includes the husband-author’s actual letter to his wife (concerning the manual) before being divided into eight sections: (1) Worship, Dress, Comportment, & Speech (2) Chastity (3) Love (4) How to Care for a Husband (5) Gardening (6) The Household (7) The Kitchen and (8) Other Small Matters. As mentioned, some sections are longer than others, which makes sense per Bayard’s reasoning but it can also lead to boredom depending on the interests of the readers.
The text of “A Medieval Home Companion” is well-written with respect to language and flows quite well. Although some may worry that the manual would be degrading to women; surprisingly, it is not. Yes, there are some moments where a female’s blood may begin to boil but the original author incorporates humor, bible verses and folk tales, love, and even advice for his own gender amongst the writings. Therefore, the manual isn’t insulting and is readable.
Aside from being an entertaining read and serving as an insight into the life of one living in fourteenth century France; “A Medieval Home Companion” makes for strong source material for historians or historical fiction authors. The details are informative and answer many questions which other source may not address.
“A Medieval Home Companion” is also successful at causing reader contemplation, as it is shocking how much women were expected to do and yet conduct themselves in a graceful and entertaining way. Readers will be exhausted just reading about it!
There are a couple paragraphs in “A Medieval Home Companion” which isn’t directed towards the wife. This is clear, though, and will not cause confusion because the name of the individual is mentioned and called out properly.
Bayard’s translation ends with original “recipes” for various concoctions from bug poison to rose water, candied orange peels to ink, and everything in between. This isn’t particularly a strong ending, as Bayard doesn’t provide a summary or an after word which would ‘stick’ but it is still interesting, nonetheless. It should also be noted that the text is supplemented with woodcut illustrations which adds to the appeal and medieval 'feel' of the book.
“A Medieval Home Companion” is a quick read of an original, primary manuscript. Bayard satisfies both novice and expert readers on the topic while arousing further investigation. “A Medieval Home Companion” is recommended for anyone and everyone interested in medieval times. ...more
If recent English history book shelves are solid indicators of trends, then it appears that the obsession with the Tudors has slipped backwards in timIf recent English history book shelves are solid indicators of trends, then it appears that the obsession with the Tudors has slipped backwards in time with a focus on how the Tudors came to gain the throne in the first place. Chris Skidmore joins this group of Tudor-background exploration in “The Rise of the Tudors: The Family That Changed English History”.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Skidmore’s book on Edward VI but not so much the book concerning Amy Robsart (sadly, because I love her); I was unaware of what to expect with “The Rise of the Tudors”. Fortunately, the reader is instantly smacked with an incredible tour de force of a book. Combining excellent writing skills (not that Skidmore was poor to begin with but he has grown exponentially), strong research, and evident passion for the topic (Skidmore recreated many life events and literally footed the same journeys as Henry Tudor in order to see through his eyes); “The Rise of the Tudors” is strong in every sense of the word.
“The Rise of the Tudors” feels alive and kicking with a strong heartbeat, exciting pace, and consistent storytelling. The text is not overly speculative and is instead objective without biases but yet flows like a narrative history allowing the reader to soak up facts without being either overwhelmed or bored. Skidmore’s writing is intelligent but easy-to-understand, resulting in compelling reading.
The biggest highlight of “The Rise of the Tudors” is the incredible wealth of information presented. Although I am very well versed on the Wars of the Roses, reign of Richard III, Elizabeth of York, etc; I still had some unanswered questions. Skidmore provides research and facts concerning background and angles which other books on the topic skim over. The enlightenment on this period of history is powerful with the reader enjoying many moments of clarity. Events made sense in a way they never have previously which in turn explains personalities and actions of future Tudors.
Furthermore, all of Skidmore’s storytelling has a rhyme and reason. There are moments in which it may seem he is going off on a tangent but there is a reason for every area explored and it all relates to the Tudors. Skidmore has the perfect ratio of mentioning these sideline areas but then bringing together the connection.
On the other hand, “The Rise of the Tudors” lacks annotated notes and strong sources which can question credibility. For instance, there are cases when Skidmore attempts to debunk writings of other historians but offers no sources and doesn’t elaborate. There are also a few (not many, but still existing) occasions in which Skidmore speculates on feelings and thoughts of historical figures.
Skidmore’s telling of the road to Bosworth is impressively a notable one as it is fresh, unique, and informative. Accompanied by maps showing the literal journey Henry’s troops took through each city to Bosworth; Skidmore provides an accurate play-by-play which truly sets the field (no pun intended) for the Battle of Bosworth. Along with rarely seen ‘letters of muster’ produced in full and details of defections; “The Rise of the Tudors” makes for one gripping and hearty book! Unfortunately, this strength weakens with the telling of the Battle of Bosworth. Although Skidmore’s depiction is illustrative and includes a map of the battlefield; he uses the same sources every couple of lines and constantly refers to a war-maneuver manual by Christine de Pazan claiming Richard and Henry must have consulted it. Not only is this an overreaching speculation but feels like filler material and is simply: annoying.
The concluding chapters of “The Rise of the Tudors” focuses on the aftermath of Bosworth concerning the personal ambitions/motives of those who fought in the battle, how it effected Henry VII’s early reign, the search for the actual battleground and battle relics, and a postscript on the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton. Skidmore is both entertaining with these chapters and also very knowledgeable. The book is supplemented with two full-color color plates with one focusing on Bosworth relics adding to a memorable piece. On a negative end, there are no end notes or annotations and the bibliography is cluttered.
Despite some complaints, “The Rise of the Tudors is undoubtedly Skidmore’s strongest work to date and is standout with its spunky look at the events leading to the Battle of Bosworth and the battle, itself. The work is more recommended for those with already-existing knowledge on the topic as the style is unique and the look at history is original compared to the ‘usual’ books. “The Rise of the Tudors” will reignite passion in those readers who perhaps have exhausted themselves regarding the topic. “The Rise of the Tudors” is not to be missed. ...more
Even though the Tudors are known for their drama-filled (albeit, somewhat short) dynasty; there was already a family making waves before them: the PlaEven though the Tudors are known for their drama-filled (albeit, somewhat short) dynasty; there was already a family making waves before them: the Plantagenets. Dan Jones explains those historical figures who paved the road for England in, “The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England”.
Jones states in his introduction to “The Plantagenets” that his work follows that of a narrative history. This means that although less scholarly and academic; one can at least hope for an exciting (almost fiction-like) sweep of events. This, however, would be a false expectation for “The Plantagenets”. Not only is Jones’s writing shallow in the academic realm, but it isn’t heart-thumping either.
Jones has a poorly-written, flat style which follows a “Person A did this and then that”-style. The flow is unnatural, the reader is not engaged, and the historical figures are not revealed. “The Plantagenets” doesn’t feature any new information while also being deadpan about the information it does give. Furthermore, the chapters in “The Plantagenets” are short and abrupt. Don’t expect an overall history of the Plantagenets as the format is one which instead focuses on one key figure or event per chapter. Although chronological, Jones doesn’t dive deep enough, cuts off the chapters too quickly, and has a choppy presentation. This leaves the reader with many unanswered questions.
Jones is also guilty of filling his text with speculation and phrases divulging what figures “thought”. Unless he has access to top-secret diaries, he does NOT know what anyone thought. Not to mention, information which does sound solid is not properly sourced with facts mentioned similar to, “A contemporary stated…” but the contemporary is never detailed. To say the least, much of “The Plantagenets” is an overview and one which doesn’t even feel credible.
As “The Plantagenets” progresses, Jones finds a more confident path in his storytelling. However, the text is merely that: a retelling of events which reads like a high school student’s history report. Plus, the work is inconsistent with some chapters being exponentially more interesting than others (which also demonstrates Jones’s own biases).
The second half of “The Plantagenets” is markedly better with its focus on Edward II and Edward III. The text flows much more smoothly and is more compelling than earlier chapters. Even despite this minor momentum kick, however; Jones’s work contains blatant errors (which the seasoned history reader will catch), plus some repetition in storytelling. Jones also insists on quoting secondary sources, again making the work feel like a “recap”.
These negative points roll into an overly-rushed conclusion which instead of detailing the drama between Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke in a memorable way; instead focuses more on Jones’s clear dislike for Richard. The epilogue of “The Plantagenets” also fails to sum-up the work in a resonating way.
For staunch history lovers, “The Plantagenets” lacks proper citation notes and sources with only a brief (and somewhat unclear) list of suggested “further reading”. A section of color plates exists but in black and white and again: lacking detail.
Sadly, “The Plantagenets” was a huge let down and is only suggested for those new to the topic seeking a lighter fair versus historical depth. The storytelling is weak and inaccuracies exist which should be kept in mind when reading “The Plantagenets”. I might consider the author again but only as a book I would skim and wouldn’t be jumping over hurdles for it. ...more
Even though women often played a subservient role in history; there were those who held prominent positions worth noting. The “Women in History” serieEven though women often played a subservient role in history; there were those who held prominent positions worth noting. The “Women in History” series studies the women who partook in some of the greatest events from the past. Ruth Dean and Melissa Thompson explore electrifying women in, “Women of the Renaissance”.
“Women of the Renaissance” is a light, glossy-paged, colorful book apparently designed for YA readers. Yet, the pages are notable as the previous work by the authors, “Women of the Middle Ages”, is in black and white; creating a striking contrast between the two. Furthermore, even though the structure does seem somewhat like a high school text book; the prose and language will actually satisfy adult readers.
Dean and Thompson divide “Women of the Renaissance” into chapters based on subject per various roles women played during the Renaissance. Each chapter depicts the overall way of life of women within the topic/subject while also highlighting specific famous (and-not-so-famous-but-should-be) women. On a positive note, this offers the reveal of women that even those familiar with the Renaissance may not be aware of and thus encouraging further research.
On the negative end, Dean and Thompson are not very adept or smooth at quoting references and tend to use the same sources repeatedly (this appears to be a trend within books from the authors). Sadly, this truly makes “Women of the Renaissance feel like a YA text which may frustrate adult readers.
It should also be noted that “Women of the Renaissance” includes some historical inaccuracies stated as firm fact so perhaps some of the text should be taken with a grain of salt.
Dean and Thompson are especially skilled at keeping the pace alive and knowing when best to graze a topic and when to dive deeper. Basically, “Women of the Renaissance” is very readable and entertaining.
Unfortunately, “Women of the Renaissance” ends rather abruptly without a memorable summary or note. However, the authors provide lists of sources and book for further reading which is rather encouraging.
Overall, “Women of the Renaissance” is an interesting introduction into the roles of women during the Renaissance. Dean and Thompson bring specific women to the forefront whom aren’t often discussed thus providing new information even to those readers well-versed on the topic. “Women of the Renaissance” is recommended for its YA target audience but also for those interested in women’s history of the Renaissance period. ...more
Sadly, most people (even Anglophiles) are less versed with the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods of English rule. Some may have heard of Emma of NormandySadly, most people (even Anglophiles) are less versed with the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods of English rule. Some may have heard of Emma of Normandy but only because she is the mother of Edward the Confessor. Patricia Bracewell attempts to remedy Emma’s silence in “Shadow on the Crown”.
“Shadow on the Crown” begins in a slightly overwhelming manner, as a surplus of characters are introduced within alternating chapters/viewpoints making it somewhat difficult to immediately feel a connection or grasp to the story. However, this settles with novel progression and becomes more welcoming. Bracewell also shows some inconsistency (only initially) with an almost forced attempt to be overly literary and descriptive but she finds a happy medium and supplements this with an added intrigue and raw storytelling. The reader feels the story come alive with an ominous foreboding (in a positive way) which keeps pages turning.
Although “Shadow on the Crown” portrays many characters, each has his/her own personality and voice with ample development and without excessively predictable personalities. Bracewell allows the reader to peel layers and facets concerning each character.
With each chapter’s progression, “Shadow on the Crown” becomes more compelling and harder to put down. This may be due to Emma’s (the main character) likeability and attraction which grows with the story; and also due to “Shadow on the Crown” not being cheesy or predictable like many other historical fiction novels. In fact, some moments are too believable and raw, even causing disgust for its brutality but that just demonstrates how convincing Bracewell is.
“Shadow on the Crown” has a fast pace and is a moving, easy-to-read, quick novel and yet is not shallow or limp. For instance, the romance between Emma and Atheslstan is not explored deeply or mainly focused on which makes “Shadow on the Crown” stand out amongst other historical fiction novels which have too much romantic overture.
The conclusion of “Shadow on the Crown” is strong and memorable, solidly answering enough questions but still paving the way for Bracewell’s next installment.
Overall, I would have preferred a more intimate look at Emma which was slightly minimized due to the multiple character viewpoints. Also missing was a genealogical chart which could have been helpful. On the contrary, I generally don’t like historical fiction novels which are more fiction than history (fluff) , yet although Bracewell admits to this being the case with her novel (again, due to the lack of sources); I still found the novel satisfying as it felt so real and encourages further research.
“Shadow on the Crown” is a delicious and engaging HF novel and will leave the reader itching for the next book.
On a less important note: I enjoyed the text font which is very medieval in style and adds to the “realness” of the story. I enjoy small details! ...more