Truly great historical fiction is that which immerses the reader in the events of history without distorting them, yet at the same time transports them into the story so completely that they feel they know the people and places that they meet there. ‘To Be A Queen’ achieves this goal in the magnificent telling of the story of Aethelflæd, which comes from one of my favourite periods of English history, when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia were in turn holding out against the Vikings and pushing them back, and when Alfred had not yet been named “ the Great” by those who recorded his role in history.
Whitehead’s writing is superb, blending a seamless and powerful narrative with poetic terms like “king-helm” drawn from the Old English style such as that seen in ‘Beowulf’ to give a reflection of how English was spoken then and to communicate ideas visually as well as verbally.
The author has created intimate and vivid portraits of the characters amongst the broad brush strokes of history, bringing to life the events and conflicts of the period in which Alfred, Ethelred and Edward fought to preserve England from the attacks and raids of the Vikings. Ancient kings, royal women, thegns, ealdormen, fractious children and servants alike are given flesh, emotions and qualities that make them leap off the page.
Aethelflæd is portrayed first as child, then as woman, then as the lady to whom all of Mercia pledged allegiance. Her vulnerabilities and flaws are real, giving a very strong sense of reality and familiarity to this woman of incredible strength and conviction. Aethelflæd has long been one of my favourite figures of English history, but I shall always feel from now on as though I know her more intimately and completely than before I read ‘To Be A Queen’.
This book is truly worthy of more than a Gold Acorn. Alas, no higher honour exists!
‘To Be A Queen’ is available on Amazon.