Book Review: The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell

Posted March 4, 2021 by Asheley in review / 1 Comment

The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell
Book Review: The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia BracewellThe Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell by Patricia Bracewell
Series: The Emma of Normandy Trilogy #3
Published by Bellastoria Press on March 2, 2021
Source: HFVBT and the publisher
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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.

I received this book for free from HFVBT and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


(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.

The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell

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.


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Monday, March 22
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About Patricia Bracewell

Patricia Bracewell Author Photo

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 will be published March 2, 2021.

Patricia lives with her husband in Oakland, California.


About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


One response to “Book Review: The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell

  1. Joye I

    I have yet to read a book set during this historical time. Would love to try this one since it sounds really interesting

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