The Forever Queen
By Helen Hollick
Emma was 13 years-old when her brother, the Norman King, married her off to the English King Æthelred. Besides her being anointed Queen in her own right, it’s a terrible match that at times humiliates and terrifies Emma. Her husband, who spent his life being ruled by his mother, has no idea what it takes to be a king let alone a decent man. When Danish invaders take control, he capitulates and later dies a sad and very lonely death. Not knowing what will become of her or her children now that the Danish king is in control of her land, Emma offers herself in marriage to Cnut, the Danish King, making him through her the new English King. Her second marriage is much happier than her first and she and her country spend many content years with Cnut as their king.
When Cnut dies, Emma fears the loss of her crown and understands deeply the threat her country faces the day that Cnut’s son from his first marriage appears to lay claim to the thrown which he believes to be rightly his. When her son with Cnut, Harthacnut, does not return to England to fight for the crown, she recalls her long abandoned sons from her first marriage, Edward and Alfred, to return with disastrous consequences forcing Emma to once again fight to keep her crown and position as Queen.
I usually don’t write such long descriptions in my reviews but I felt this one, being as long as it is (793 pages on my Nook) and the length of Emma’s rule, deserved a longer than normal introduction. Emma, while not a likable character — she’s disgusted by her husband and her sons from her first marriage, isn’t motherly, is outwardly cruel to her husband and sons (the husband deserving though), and cares in some cases more for her crown and title as Queen above all else — is intensely interesting. Her life is anything but boring; sad yes, horrid in some cases, lonely, and when she finds happiness there is always something that threatens it (another wife, more sons). While I still don’t know if I liked her, I couldn’t put this book down wondering what would happen to her next.
Hollick is a great writer of historical fiction and since reading her Arthurian legend trilogy last year, she’s shot up my list of favorite authors. While there were a few slow parts and an incredible list of characters to keep track of, I still liked this book a lot. She picks subjects and characters whose parts in actual history may have been forgettable but gives them a fictional voice that makes them unforgettable.