Sunday, March 14, 2021

Blog Tour Guest Post: The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell

Please join me in welcoming Patricia Bracewell to Let Them Read Books! Patricia is touring the blogosphere with her brand new release, the long-awaited conclusion to her Emma of Normandy trilogy, The Steel Beneath the Silk. I had the pleasure of helping Patricia design the cover, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post about the women who have been left out of the chronicles of history and how she is giving them a voice. Read on and enter to win a copy of The Steel Beneath the Silk!

A breathtaking conclusion to Bracewell’s Emma of Normandy Trilogy, brimming with treachery, heartache, tenderness and passion as the English queen confronts ambitious and traitorous councilors, invading armies and the Danish king’s power-hungry concubine.

In the year 1012 England’s Norman-born Queen Emma has been ten years wed to an aging, ruthless, haunted King Æthelred. The marriage is a bitterly unhappy one, between a queen who seeks to create her own sphere of influence within the court and a suspicious king who eyes her efforts with hostility and resentment. But royal discord shifts to grudging alliance when Cnut of Denmark, with the secret collusion of his English concubine Elgiva, invades England at the head of a massive viking army. Amid the chaos of war, Emma must outwit a fierce enemy whose goal is conquest and outmaneuver the cunning Elgiva, who threatens all those whom Emma loves.

My third novel about Emma of Normandy is set in the early 11th century during a period in England’s history when the kingdom was assaulted by wave after wave of viking armies that were determined on conquest. My working title was Perilous Tides, and for me that phrase had several meanings. It was a reference to the ocean tides that carried the vikings to England; to the tides of blood that were shed by English and vikings alike during that war; and to an actual tidal wave that devastated England in 1014. These events were all perilous for Emma and for the English. 

However, as I reached the end of one of many drafts of the novel it was clear to me that the working title didn’t do justice to the story that I’d written. As with my earlier books, I had attempted to do what the chroniclers of the 11th century did not. While the scribes reported battles, betrayals, murders, shifting alliances, the deaths of kings, even a tidal wave, they did not describe, except very, very obliquely, what was happening to the women. Reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle—the contemporary, recorded history of the time—one might come to the conclusion that there were no women in England at all during those years.  

So after weeks of brainstorming, I came up with the title that is now blazoned across the book’s cover. The Steel Beneath the Silk is a reference to the enduring strength of the women who suffered through those years of war and deprivation, but who were ignored by the chroniclers and so have been largely forgotten. Queen Emma, of course, is the novel’s central figure, but she is not alone. The women who lived through such a terrible time included her stepdaughters, the noblewomen of the queen’s household, the abbesses, and even the refugees seeking protection from the horrors of war. 

I was able to pull some of them from the sparse pages of the history of the time—women who were mentioned because of their husbands or sons or fathers. We know about Emma because she was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, was the queen to two kings, was the mother of two kings, and she was the great aunt of William the Conqueror. Indeed, Emma made certain that she would be remembered. She commissioned a book, known now as The Encomium Emmae Reginae, that documented events of that time as she wanted them recorded. Even so, her name echoes down the ages only faintly. 

We know far less about the noblewoman Ælfgifu of Northampton, who appears in my books as Elgiva. Her claims to fame? She was the daughter of a man who was murdered on the orders of a king. She was given (forced?) into marriage to an enemy of England. She was the last survivor of a noble family, and she would bear a son who, we know from her later history, would one day claim the English throne with her help. Clearly she had determination and grit. One historian refers to her as “powerful and ruthless.” But we know little about what she experienced in the years covered by my novel or what she thought about Queen Emma. We don’t know what she felt toward the viking she was perhaps forced to marry, nor what hardships she faced. That page of her life was blank, and I was happy to write on it.

The lives of Emma’s stepdaughters are as unknowable as Elgiva’s. We know their father’s name because he was a king. We know the names of their brothers and we know the names of the men that the girls married. Beyond that, their lives are shrouded in mist. One of them became a nun…maybe. The others certainly wed and may have had children, but it was up to me to imagine the losses and hardships, possibly including exile, that they suffered in the midst of war. 

And what of the women who were not nobly born? The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claimed that the enemy "plundered and burned and slew all they met," and that word “all” is chilling. Women’s homes and fields were burned, their husbands and children killed or wounded, and if the women survived they had to pick up the pieces. One of the characters I invented for my book is a stand-in for an entire kingdom of women who endured such terror, loss, and hardship.

The women of early England and all the women who’ve endured and continue to endure the trial by fire of war—they are the steel beneath the silk. 

About the Author:

Patricia Bracewell grew up in Los Angeles where her love of stories led to college degrees in Literature, a career as a high school English teacher, and a yearning to write. Her first novel, Shadow on the Crown, about the 11th-century queen of England, Emma of Normandy, was published in 2013. Its sequel, The Price of Blood, appeared in 2015. The final book of her Emma of Normandy Trilogy, The Steel Beneath the Silk was published March 2, 2021.

Patricia lives with her husband in Oakland, California.

The Steel Beneath the Silk is on a blog tour!


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away two paperback copies of The Steel Beneath the Silk!

The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on March 30th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

The Steel Beneath the Silk

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for hosting Patricia and her blog tour, Jenny!

    HF Virtual Book Tours


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