Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Forever Queen by Helen Holick- review

Plot:  Emma, at age 13,  has been promised by her brother, to the current King of England. AEthelred, a coward king. A middled aged man with children older then herself. On sight, Emma is filled with disappointment and feelings of betrayal which soon turn to shear loneliness. Abused and humiliated at the hands of her husband, Emma still fulfills her duty as a Queen, baring children before she's out of childhood herself. The death of the King brings with it relief and fear mixing itself to one solution if she wishes to keep the crown for herself and the lives of her children safe, marry the man who defeated her husband.  Her second marriage to Cnut, is lighter, happier and filled with love and even more children. 

Cnut too brings with him grief from the death of his second wife and their only daughter, who soon is taken by accident leaving him in despair. Emma is Cnut's third wife, his first having been a forced arrangement to AElgifu, a woman who would plague Emma her entire life. 

Both Emma and AElgifu claim the legal rights of their sons for the crown of England. But it is Emma who has earned the love and respect of the people, who has herself stood with the armies over the years to protect and defend the land; with her first husband, then with her step-sons, then her second husband and finally with their own son.  

In her long life, Queen Emma outlasted three generations of men to stand tall and serve England.

This historical fiction covers 50 years in the life of Emma, and contained in a volume of 616 pages. The cast of characters it welds spans from Normandy to England to Sweden to Rome and back again, filling up your imagination as it pulls you to it, engulfing you.

The author's notes give up the fact that the real history of Emma is but a footnote, even though she was one of the first- if not indeed the first- to have her life penned in a biography.  Which is still unproven to be a loyal truth or a biography of semi-fictions.

For me, this novel was both breathtaking and difficult.  Even with the maps, timelines and pronunciation guide, because so many of the book's characters had similar names I found it difficult to keep everyone straight.
As working with historical fiction is never an entirely easy task, Forever Queen  manages to keep it's pace steady and forgiving for it's readers.

Emma is a woman's woman. She's been delivered into a life that is little more then slavery for the first half of her years. Having been  abused, mocked, raped, mentally tortured (seeing her pet dog killed at the hands of her first husband) and even silenced, she some how managed to rise above it all and find her own strength as well as a voice. One that would trickle down though the centuries to find itself in a present day novel.  You can't help but wonder what heights she would have risen to had she been alive today.
What I found most interesting about her character, was her lack of motherly instincts for half of her children. The connection she has or more properly the lack of connection she has with her sons from her first marriage, really start to show a great amount of residue from the years of abuse.
Speaking as a woman who has chosen not to have children myself, I found the intricate emotional tug of war between her devotion and duty to her country and to her own self to be brutally honest, to the point of  asking myself would I have been able to go through what she did just to be Queen?   The fact Emma sees no alternative but to be the physical embodiment of the title of queen is at times both desirable and horrific. 

I also found myself cheering for some of the unlikely players in this novel, namely Cnut and Edmund.

Cnut, I thought was a more suited match for Emma as well as a more interesting man. He is played as a very human hero, when kings were seen as being gods.  The twists his character goes through would give any modern movie hero a run for his money.
We meet his character as a angry teenager who not only represents the "generation me" aspect of things, but you know from the first meeting between Cnut and Emma that sparks will end up flying. It graciously foreshadows his arch throughout the rest of the novel.
When his character dips into despair, folding back and forth on his own trustworthiness; you find yourself forgiving him. There seems to be a sampling of innocence through his adulthood with his three marriages, such as when he can't turn his back on his first wife even when he knows she's going to be his destruction.

Edmund is the perfect hero. From start to finish he embodies everything you would expect the hero to be.  He learns at the feet of not his father but Emma and her personal knight. His devotion to his family is something to be held as he puts all aside for the good of England.
Edmund is written with a sly smile, as if the author knew in the back of her mind he would be the one to catch your eye and hold it.

Forever Queen  could easily be a complete work of modern fiction just by replacing the Queendom of England for a President of a Multi-million dollar company, the court for a boardroom, and the wars for ad campaign. Power, trust, jealousy and betrayal stays the same no matter what century it's brought out in.

It will be interesting to see how she weaves the remaining story of Edmund's legacy in the next installment.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for such a great review - Emma was a fascinating woman, and deserved her own novel.

    I was also intrigued as to why she felt as she did towards her sons. I had to do a lot of "reading between the lines" and count on imaginative conjecture; those who recorded history were not helpful towards future novelists - they only recorded basic facts not reasons!
    Events and actions made it clear that Edward disliked his mother and she had no interest in his father - "why?" was one of the starting points of my research for Forever Queen.