Cover Image: The Steel Beneath the Silk

The Steel Beneath the Silk

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

The 3rd novel in the Emma of Normandy trilogy follows the years 1012 to 1017. As Danish invaders continue to raid and plunder England, the warrior, Cnut, vies for King Aethelred’s throne and subsequent to the king’s death, asks for the hand of his widowed queen. Emma and her peers are brought to vivid life on the page, not an easy feat with such scant information available about the time period. There is a great deal of treachery, murder and political skullduggery which keep the pages turning. The Dramatis Personae will be of use to many readers as the novel includes a huge cast of characters. After Emma’s fraught marriage to Aethelred, the author chooses to conclude her story with Emma’s marriage to Cnut, a more just ruler and seemingly, a more considerate husband ―a fitting end for a brilliant series. I recommend reading all three books in order ― Shadow on the Crown, The Price of Blood ― rather than taking a dive into this as a standalone. A highly recommended series shedding interesting light on the power struggle that led to the Norman Conquest and why Emma’s son Edward’s choice for the succession leant towards William of Normandy.
Was this review helpful?
(I know this is long, but I have a hard time talking about stories like this one with only a few words. I love this type of historical fiction so much, and this period of history is one of my favorites.)

Emma of Normandy is historically important because of her two marriages to kings. She was married to King Aethelred the Unready and then she was also married to King Cnut the Great. She ultimately outlived both of her husbands and had a lot of influence on politics during her life. She was also a visible presence and influence when her sons were in power. But even though she was notable and influential, there is still so much that isn't known about her. We know more about her than most women during this time, but it is still just so little. That's why I love stories like this one, where the author takes real people and events, bases them heavily on history, and then fills in details by imagining how conversations may have gone or how decisions may have been made. This book featuring Queen Emma was quite thrilling for me to read.

There is so much that happened politically during Emma's life. So much! This book picks up in 1012 A.D., when her marriage to King Aethelred was about a decade old. They had been married for political reasons and their union sealed an oath between Aethelred and Emma's brother Richard, Duke of Normandy. When the Danes intensified their effort to seize the English crown, the relationship between Emma's husband and her brother was jeopardized and things got really interesting.

So my favorite part of this story is all of the kingdom politics. There are allies formed and oaths made, and oaths are broken and attacks are made. There is revenge and death. It took me a while to read this book because I liked to stop when something or someone interested me and to research more about it. Throughout everything, Emma was the most interesting to me because she seemed to show up just about everywhere I was reading, as a wife or a mother or a sister.

It was interesting to read about her relationship with Aethelred in this story, but it was more interesting to me to read about her relationship with Cnut. When Cnut comes into the picture as an invader for his father King Swein, he and Emma already know one another from an event in their past. You wouldn't expect that Emma would feel positively toward Cnut because he essentially stole the kingship from her own son, but her relationship with him did change from a purely political decision to one that had affection and admiration.

I loved this story. I genuinely loved reading the perspectives of all of the characters, even the ones that were bad guys. It is fascinating to have a means to visualize what may have happened centuries and centuries ago. I love that Emma had so much influence even though it was so hard to be a women in her time. I also really respect and admire the other women in the story for their influence, even as they weren't the decision-makers.

There were a few times when I was reading that I wondered if events on the page were recorded in history or were they fiction that the author included to move the story along (I mainly wondered this where the romances were concerned). Reading the Author's Note does answer these questions and more, as the author talks about research she used and liberties that she took.

I debated back and forth about whether to read the first two books before I read this one, and ultimately I decided to go ahead and start with this story since it begins a couple of years after another of my recent reads ended (The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett, which also includes Emma as a character). These two books are not related, but I loved seeing the continuation of Emma in their storylines, and I found it easy to pick up this series with this third book. I want to go back and read the first two, though, and I actually already own copies of them. Many of the marriages and relationships in this book were formed and developed during the previous two, so I think I would obviously have had more background knowledge coming into the story had I begun at the start of the series. I actually think I may read this one again once I've read the first two.

I selfishly wish this series would continue because this book ends right in the middle of my interest in Emma's life. At the end of the story, she has a lot of life left and many things left to do. But I did enjoy this glimpse into the 11th century immensely and am excited that I can go back and read the two preceding novels about Emma of Normandy.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via HFVBT in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my thoughts and opinions about the book.
Was this review helpful?
This is the first book I’ve read in the trilogy, I have to say I absolutely  loved it.  Knowing how immersive this book is, I’m definitely going back to read books one and two.  

I felt plunged into the 11th century, a story of Queen Emma of Normandy’s  courage in the face of betrayal, war and lost love. As King Aethelred confronts the Danes on the battlefield, we see the Queen forging alliances with power, diplomacy and cunning. 

For fans of historical fiction or ‘Vikings’ or Game of Thrones, this is highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
Oh my gosh. I have loved this series from the beginning and I'm kinda sad that this is it. I didn't know much about Emma before I picked up the first book. This series has brought me into her life,right beside her.
I highly recommend this book,this series actually.
Was this review helpful?
This is the third book in the Emma of Normandy trilogy and it has been a long time coming. I was excited to see that it had finally arrived and even more excited to begin reading it. Unfortunately, that excitement did not last long. I was disappointed by many things in this book, beginning with the jarring cover which did not fit with the other covers. I was hoping in this book we would see a complete telling of Emma’s life. That did not happen. For approximately the first half of the book Emma seemed more like a secondary character, with the war between the English and the Danes being the main character. I felt that the characters in the book were secondary to the historical events of the time and that made for a very dull and plodding story.  I know the war was important, but I would have liked to have gotten it over with and gotten on with Emma‘s life. It wasn’t until into the second half of the book that the story really became interesting to me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the book ended and there was still the most interesting part of Emma’s life left for her to live. 

My copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to the the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review it.
Was this review helpful?
It may have been a long wait between books 2 and 3 of this trilogy, but it is a rewarding finish I very much enjoyed and well worth the wait. The treatment of Emma throughout is respectful of what she went through with her string of marriages and birthings as well as threats to her security most of the time. To put it briefly, she was shrewd, adaptable and the ultimate survivor. With so little to be found in written records of what her life was really like, Bracewell has given us a believable version of what could have transpired.
Examples of her steel: "Emma rebuked him, her voice sharp as steel. And it must be the king, not you, who will determine if he has spoken the truth! Now, put away your sword!"
"She turned her face into the wind, steeling herself against whatever lay ahead. She had lived through other perils, and she would not give in to despair..."
"Make no mistake, there is steel beneath all that silk."

Thank you to Bellastoria Press for this Advanced Reader Copy
Was this review helpful?
I had been wondering for a number of years when the final instalment in the Emma of Normandy Trilogy was going to be released.  Excitement mounted in the fall when I heard that March 2nd would be release day.

The previous books in this series, Shadow on the Crown and The Price of Blood were both 5 star reads and this conclusion to the series followed suit.

It is the year 1012 when The Steel Beneath the Silk begins and I'll confess to being a little nervous that I didn't do a reread for fear of forgetting what happened previously.  But those fears were unfounded as people and circumstances were brought back with lots of 'oh right, I remember that' or 'yea I remember her now' - Elgiva comes to mind there.

Emma is one of those women I knew nothing about until I read this series and now I am on the lookout to learn more about her and the time period.  She was a formidable woman, a pawn for her family who lived life with courage, heartache and by the time this book takes places she has rooted herself in England. She was a woman ahead of her time, a queen with confidence and integrity.

This book was vivid in not just character development but with a story that was vivid.  I love what she wrote in the author notes -

Because I write fiction and not history, I do not claim that things happened exactly in the way, only that they could have.

Which is what I love in historical fiction.  This book was well researched and the author put me right there.  The closer I got to the end the faster I read, loving the ending though not at all what I expected - remember I didn't know my history on Emma.

This series is one I highly recommend. If you are a fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine you should give this series a go.

My thanks to the author and Netgalley for this digital arc in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Highly informative telling of a lesser known period in English history prior to the Norman Conquest. Was pleased to see that this was a well researched novel where you gain an understanding of the various conflicting factions, the perspective of Emma of Normandy, her children, and her husbands; Aethelred and Cnut. Found it to be a wonderful escape from the pandemic and left me wanting to learn more about this time period and how Emma’s future years evolve. Hoping the author continues to delve deeper into her story and that of subsequent rulers. Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
4 stars

[I received an ARC ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you for the book!]

[What I liked:]

•I loved the unrequited love story!

•Women characters play important parts in the power struggles—especially Emma and Elgiva.

•I love court intrigues, treachery, complex politics, shifting alliances, divided family loyalties, and battle strategy in historical fiction, and this book delivers nicely on that front!

•The prose is good. It’s not my favorite sort of flowery lyricism, but it suits the genre, is clear & easy to follow, & gives enough detail to ground the reader in the story without overwhelming the narrative in description.

•The basic chronology of historical events is followed pretty faithfully, with snippets from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle interspersed between chapters. The author’s note at the end clarifies this, discussing her research & where she chose to embellish the story where historical facts are sparse.

•Emma has beauty, wit, influence, & is (deservingly) respected by many in her sphere, yet she also is shaped by her flaws & weaknesses. Many of her weaknesses are a result of her societal limitations as a woman & foreigner, though her struggles to overcome grief, hate, & disillusionment show her humanity. She has empathy & is a decent person, but does not balk to (occasionally) manipulate others to negotiate her aims, showing her strength & grit. She knows fear, but will risk taking a stand. I admire her bravery.

•The story isn’t overwhelmed with the minutiae of how brutal medieval life was (possibly because the main characters are nobles, thus not the worst off), but the narrative doesn’t shy away from describing the ravages of war on the land, on the citizenry, & on national unity. That helps heighten the stakes of the struggle for the English throne.

•The ending focuses on Emma’s reflections on her relationships over her lifetime, which I think was a nice & emotionally satisfying way to wrap things up.

•I haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy, but the book did a good job of introducing me to the characters and catching me up on the plot. I do plan to read the previous two books.

•The portrayal of how religious beliefs influenced daily life in this era was interesting, & as far as I know historically accurate. Especially the acknowledgment of the syncretism of Catholic & traditional pre-christian religious beliefs that was common at the time.

[What I didn’t like as much:]

•There is lots of perspective jumping, sometimes mid-scene, which is not a personal preference. As the story progressed though, I got used to it. The benefit of this approach, though, is that we get to know the motivations, suspicions, & emotional ties of many of the important players in this complex drama, not just Emma’s perspective. I think it does enrich the story.

•Everyone is in love with Emma—or intrinsically attracted to her on sight (insta-lust). Not insta-love, which I’m glad for, but it did seem a bit unrealistically fawning sometimes. 

•Elgiva as a villain is a bit one dimensional in her extreme villainy. Eadric as well.
Was this review helpful?
A well-researched look into one of the most fascinating times in British history. I found this book fairly interesting and entertaining, if a bit slow at times. It's a very in-depth look into the politics of the time with a decent dash of romance thrown in, but it lacks a bit of actual action. I really would have liked it if the book covered more years/historical territory. It goes so in-depth that the plot barely moves for chapters at a time. We see the same situation from multiple different POVs, which slows everything down.

It's very reminiscent of ASOIAF, but without dragons and the majority of the things that made that series so fun. There are a few too many instances of the words "across the Narrow Sea" and "King in the North" for it to be anything other than a deliberate mimicry. I get that Martin got these terms from history, but they are used so often in this book that it's like watching a lost pilot from some show made by the same people as GOT but set in the eleventh century. If you liked all the politics of GOT, you will probably like this book. If you found GOT too slow and only cared about the dragons and White Walkers, this book will likely be too slow.

My biggest complaint with this book was in the choices the author made regarding place names and personal names. She uses jarl and thegn, but then most of the place names are in their modern form (so Canterbury instead of the Anglo-Saxon Cantwareburh, etc). But York (which should rightly be called Eoforwic to the Anglo-Saxons) is called Jorvik?!?! Is there some method to this madness or did the author just arbitrarily decide which place names would be accurate to the time? I understand that at this time the spelling of place names was all over the place, but I strongly feel the author should have gone with either all Anglo-Saxon spellings or all modern/Norman spellings. Since she refers to Wales as the "Waylisc kingdoms" she should at least refer to the English as the Englisc. Maybe there will be an explanation for the place names in later copies of this book but there wasn't in mine. But my biggest pet peeve was how the author described everyone's age. No one is just 27. They are all X winters or summers old. Emma's son is six summers old and her step-son is twenty seven winters old. Why can't they just be X years old, at least occasionally? "Edyth, all of eighteen summers old .... had been wed for five years to the..." She can use years in this context but not for someone's age? It was just really overdone for me. And every single person's age is told in this way. Every. Single. Time. And not just at the beginning of the book either, but all throughout. If someone's age is mentioned, they're never simply twenty, it's "the man had seen only twenty winters, but he...."

All that said, there was a decent amount about the book to like. Names aside, the history of the book is solid and the author really shines when detailing some of Emma's more interesting accomplishments. I wish the series moved a bit faster--three books in and Emma is still only in her twenties--but I'm glad we got to see some of the stuff with Swein and Cnut. I could have lived without all the romantic drama between Emma and her step-son and without quite so many exclamation points, but I loved the little excerpts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The author does a good job explaining the political scene of the time and it's nice that we get to see all the sides of the political spectrum through multiple narrators, but everything just felt a little too drawn out and a little too slow-paced for my taste.

I received a free copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
After a six-year wait, Patricia Bracewell’s trilogy about Queen Emma of Normandy comes to a close in The Steel Beneath the Silk. The is an ambitious book that chronicles the massive upheaval during the final years of King Æthelred the Unready’s reign, as seen through the eyes of several key players during the era—not least of all his wife, Emma. After re-reading Bracewell’s first two books and then this one, my verdict is as follows: this is a perfectly good book, but it doesn’t fully satisfy.

My primary complaint with respect to this novel is that it feels rushed, wooden, and a bit clumsy. While I don’t think there is enough material here to expand out into two books, Bracewell had a lot of ground to cover, and in her attempts to fully paint the sociopolitical picture of the time, other aspects of good fiction writing had to be scaled back or altogether abandoned. In order to keep the complex dynamics between the various military leaders straight for her readers, Bracewell primarily relies on dry expository passages that read more like a summary than true, in-the-moment storytelling. And between the cramped plot movements and historical events, there is little space for the author to invest in the people who populate her pages. I do understand that certain genres (historical fiction included) tend not to emphasize character development to the extent that you might expect in, say…romance novels or many types of literary fiction, but Bracewell truly lost sight of her protagonist here amidst all of the war and scheming and moving pieces of international conflict. The Steel Beneath the Silk spends a fair amount of time telling readers what Emma and the other characters do, but aside from a few awkward attempts to tell the audience how Emma feels, there isn’t much of a sense of character here. And there’s certainly no “showing” at all. (This is made particularly worse, by the way, when the author crams a poorly constructed romantic arc into the final three chapters.)

I can say that it’s evident that The Steel Beneath the Silk was meticulously researched, and considering all of the ground that needed to be covered, it’s tightly plotted. I just can’t help but feel that, in terms of execution, this book was not as polished as Bracewell’s prior novels. I don’t know the circumstances that led to the book’s delayed release and change in publishers, but from an outside perspective, it seems to me that any difficulty in molding the source material into a workable novel is reflected in the way this book comes across as graceless and inelegant in terms of both style and narrative voice.

Overall, I found this to be a somewhat disappointing conclusion to the series. Particularly disappointing because, if you had asked me in 2015 to list my favorite books, I would have included Bracewell’s Emma of Normandy trilogy in the lineup. But a lot of rain has fallen since that time, and my 2021 reaction to The Steel Beneath the Silk is more akin to a shrug and a nod than any kind of satisfaction or celebration.
Was this review helpful?
I absolutely loved the third (and final) book in the Emma of Normandy trilogy.  As the book starts, King Æthelred continues with his paranoid and divisive reign, trusting no one, especially not his wife and his sons.  As the Danes continue to raid England, bringing a massive army and staying during the winter, one by one the kingdoms begin to fall into Danish hands, until London is the only place left holding out. The king;s remaining sons (the athlings) plead with him to let them help but he rejects them, and listens only to the evil Eadric who is only out for themselves.  And where is Emma in all this?  Emma continues to care for the people of England who are being displaced, who's crops, livelihoods and homes are destroyed, and who are fleeing to London for refuge. 

The book is really well researched and even characters with little historical documentation have depth not always seen in historical fiction. Elgiva, the jealous vindictive daughter of a northern lord, weds (or hand fasts) with King Swein's son, and continues her quest to become Queen of England. But there is only one queen in England, and that is Emma. As the prophecy said, "he who holds England, must first hold the queen".  

Before reading The Steel Beneath the Silk, I read or reread the previous two books in the trilogy.  They are also great reads and refreshing my knowledge of Emma and the times made The Steel Beneath the Silk an even more enjoyable read for me.  I loved the book from start to finish, and it was a fitting end to the trilogy. I have to wonder, what can we expect next from Patricia Bracewell? I hope her next book comes soon!
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to NetGalley & Bellastoria Press for providing me with and ARC in exchange for honest feedback.

This is the story of Queen Emma of Normandy,queen of England in time of Anglo-Saxon who was married to 2 Kings of England, Aethelred the Unready & Cnut the Great. This book mainly told her life as queen of England until she married to Cnut the Great after Danes managed to conquer England. She played her role as dowager queen who defended London from falling to the hand of Danes. 

This is the first time I ever heard of Queen Emma. Her contribution did mentioned some in the story as her records probably lost in time. She was a strong and determined queen as I can see how patience she was when she was married to King Aelthered. Hence, it is worth to read. Politics is the major theme in this book. The time before and how England falls into the hand of Danes. Treachery, tactics (dirty/good) and leadership are well displayed in this book. I find it very riveting and engaging. It also focusing on more to the wars and battles happened. I gained new knowledge where Danes actually used to conquer England back in Anglo-Saxon times.

The language usage also easy to digest. We might lost into a lot of characters introduced but all of them played vital parts in this story.  King Aelthered had a lot of childrens since he was married twice including Queen Emma. Everyone was involved in politics including marriage and have children. It is normal for royals. Romances in this story were appeared to be minimum for me but it is justified enough. 

This book definitely attracts my attention since I always love to read about Kings & Queen of England. The thing that I less keen is the paragraphs are not justify and the cover can be design better. It is sufficient but we need more classy design to attract readers to read.
Was this review helpful?
I've read all three of Ms. Bracewell's series of books on Emma of Normandy and each on has been an inspiration.  To me Emma is more of a queen than many other famous queens I have read of.   The battles upon battles alone throughout the years going back and forth between England and the Danes and her part as peaceweaver Norman Queen  during all of them is simply breathtaking.  First she is sent to Englalnd from Normandy as a child bride to an obstreperous, unwielding, and stubborn king Athelred who spend no time listening to her advice at all for years..  Then he finally dies, and she makes peace and marries her son who is soon killed in a balltle by treachery through one of his own Englishman.   And then finally England is divided under Kind Cnut, the Danish king, with part of the land remaining English and the other Danish but peace for a time is finally established.  Oh by the way Queen Emma marries King Cnut and the future of the English and Danes is reconciled.  A lot of work was put into the research of this novel and I sincerely thank Net Galley, Ms Bracewell and Bellastoria Press for giving me the pleasure of reading this fantastic novel.
Was this review helpful?
Patricia Bracewell  - The Steel Beneath the Silk [English]

The final installment of the series about Queen Emma deals with the last few years of King Æthelred´s reign. The Danish king Swein Forkbeard and his son Cnut still haven´t given up on invading England; they are supported by Cnut´s English concubine Elgiva who has hated Æthelred ever since he had members of her closest family killed. The ageing and ailing king doesn´t find the energy to fight against the Danes which leads to conflict with his grown-up sons from his first marriage who don´t want to be robbed of their heritage by Danish invaders. Queen Emma meanwhile doesn´t only fear the Vikings, she also fears for the lives of her young sons Edward and Alfred, who might be in danger of being harmed by their elder half-brothers as well…

Ideally this novel should be read following the first and second volumes, because otherwise it might be difficult to understand the current developments concerning the English-Danish relations. Fortunately, the novel is preceded by a list of acting characters (Dramatis Personae) and a glossary which facilitates keeping track of the unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon names.
As in the preceding novels the author occasionally uses citations from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, informing the reader about the most important events in the forthcoming chapters.
The characters in “The Steel Beneath the Silk” are historical figures, but of course parts of their personalities are fictionally embellished. Most of the characters are well differentiated, this holds true especially for Cnut, others are painted in a very unfavourable light like the weak and craven Æthelred and the malicious Elgiva. Eadric, one of the king´s sons in law, is the arch villain: lying, treacherous, without any sense of loyalty, he serves those he can profit from most.
Due to these intrigues and power struggles the plot is full of suspense.
“The Steel Beneath the Silk” is a highly readable conclusion to a trilogy allowing interesting insights into the Anglo-Saxon era.
Was this review helpful?