Emma of Normandy is a frail, 13 year old girl when her brother, Duke Richard II of Normandy, marries her off to the much older Æthelread, King of England. At her arrival, Emma soon discovers she’s not quite welcome. Not at least by Æthelread himself, who despises the little girl and would rather have a big bosomed woman as his consort.
The marriage is a failure. Æthelread is a worthless king who prefers to go hunting then to govern his kingdom. He is a weak and changeable man who cannot make up his mind. The day Emma is crowned queen, she swears she will do anything in her power to protect her people. But England is weak and an easy pray for invaders. King Swein Forkbear of Denmark knows that England is without strong ruler and raids the coast every summer. Æthelread, too lazy to do anything about it, just pays them off so they will leave.
When Æthelread dies, England is invaded by the Danish. Edmund, Æthelread second oldest son, tries to stop Cnut, Sweins’ son, but loses. England is now divided, the north is handed over to Cnut, while Edmund rules the south. But Edmund dies a few weeks later and Cnut inherits the whole kingdom.
All this time, Emma stands by and watch events unfold. She swore she would protect the people and now has to make some hard decisions. She can flee to Normandy, where her two sons are in excile. Or she can stay in England, marry Cnut and rule alongside him. She chooses to marry Cnut, begin a new life and leave her two sons behind. But will they ever forget their claime to the English throne?
I have mixed feelings about this novel. On the one hand, it’s a complete new time period for me. I’ve never read anything about Saxon England and knew next to nothing about Queen Emma. So I learned a lot of new things. On the other hand, the use of Æ was a bit distracting and I didn’t like it in the beginning. I got used to it after a while, but it slowed down my reading.
As I said, I knew almost nothing about Queen Emma, Æthelread the Unready and the whole plundering of the Vikings. It is a fascinating time period and the novel certainly peeked my interest to read more about it.
But I have to say I am also disappointed in this novel. The novel should tell the story of Emma of Normandy, but the first two parts of the book were all about Æthelread and his lack of judgment. It’s only after Æthelread dies and Emma becomes Cnut’s wife, the story really picks up and tells the life of Emma.
She was the only English Queen who married two kings and was mother of two more. To pull that off, she must have had a iron will, but that’s not really clear in this novel. The only thing that’s pretty clear, is that she hates the children Æthelread has begotten on her, except her daughter and that she will do anything in her power to stay Queen.
After reading The Forever Queen I did not have the feeling I know Emma. And that’s one of the main points a novel has to pass before I can say I liked it. So I am really doubting if I am going to buy the sequel ‘I Am The Chosen King’. This novel has not blown me away, but I do not regret reading it.
Publisher: William Heinemann – Random House Books