The Forever Queen is the story of Emma of Normandy who became Queen Aelfgifu when she was married at age 13 to England's King Aethelred and was given as little choice about her public name as her husband. Her story encompasses England's Saxon history through Aethelred's reign, that of his son Edmund, Danish invader Cnut, and two of her own son's . . . oh, and there's a bastard usurper in there for a few years as well. Having not spend much time reading about this era (1002-1042), I found this book a good combination of entertaining and educational.
Hollick does an excellent job of making the people and places of a millennia ago come alive and giving those people plausible motivations and personalities where history may have not left us much information to go on. I appreciate the fact that she seems to include as much as we do know and only use artistic license to fill in the gaps, and she admits where this occurs in her author's notes.
Though Emma is a cold, vain, and ambitious woman, I couldn't help but feel sorry for her when all that she had worked for (more than once) seems to fall apart, mostly because she is a woman who has to work through a husband or son to govern England. She soon forgets her Norman roots and considers herself English and by far the best person to be running the place. If only she didn't need some incompetent male to stand behind! I could only be partially sympathetic when her neglected children end up disappointing her.
This novel was a great way to learn about England's history before the Norman Conquest. (It is hinted at: "The boy is too base-born to rise higher." Well, maybe not.) Be prepared though. Hollick gives the most charming and likeable personalities to those who die before their time! We are not given much opportunity to mourn these people though. Due to the author's habit of ending a chapter with a sudden death and picking up the next chapter some time later, your eyes barely have a chance to well up before you realize the story has already moved on.
Besides the fact that I found Emma somewhat unlikeable, though realistic, Hollick's habit of having short choppy chapters that make great leaps in time was my only other serious complaint. This seems to be more of an issue in the first half of the book. I'm not sure if it was due to the lack of information about the times, forcing her to work with what was available or some other reason that caused these stunted chapters that didn't always add much to the story. The time jumps between chapters sometimes left me wondering what had happened to what I was just reading about, but if I had to choose between accuracy or better flow, I am glad the author chose to not fill in gaps that could not be filled with anything known.
I have had this book on my shelf for a while, but now that I have read it I am ready to carry on with it's sequel, "I am the Chosen King." Hollick has raised my interest in a period of history that I had previously ignored, and I am anxious to stay with her story.