Author: Joanna Courtney
The Constant Queen is the second in the Queens of Conquest series and does a beautiful job of weaving historical fact with historical fiction. Not quite knowing where to start with this review I have spent some time doing other reading and checking out Courtney’s Website for some background.
The Queens featured in the Queens of Conquest trilogy are real queens who reigned at a time of great change for England yet their place in the history books is quite limited. History is male dominated, especially looking so far back, so Courtney wanted to tell the untold stories of these fascinating women. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to find the information to piece together their lives with the little focus placed on them in the history books.
The Constant Queen is based on known fact and weaves together as much of the known and important information as was practical and the bulk of the characters actually existed, but Courtney didn’t want to just summarize this period of history; she wanted to bring the Queens to life on the page. There are places where facts were knowingly bent for the good of the narrative and things that needed to be left out of the story.
All of this is just background information that I went into the story without, and my knowledge of history is quite sketchy at best, so I had no idea that there was any factual basis.
History is not my strong point and historical fiction is not something I have read a lot of, except for the stage I went through of reading a lot of King Arthur, so I found The Constant Queen to be quite a heavy read. I enjoyed the story and I loved the characters but I found it hard work, and I was forever flicking back to chapter beginnings to check on the when and where we were.
The Constant Queen opens in Kiev, April 1031 with a 12 yr old Princess Elizaveta of Kiev on the night she meets Harald Hardrada. The 440 pages of this novel cover her life from that day until September 1066. Thirty-five years in under 500 pages is no mean feat and it could so easily have dragged or missed such huge chunks of time that the story lost cohesion but Courtney manages to retain great fluidity in the narrative and filling in some of the blanks from years that are missing from the narrative completely.
Elizaveta, also known as Lily, is our heroine and she is an admirable woman; though there were times that her behaviour was far from admirable. This is her story but to give a complete picture there are sections that take place far from where she is. Harald is an integral part of the narrative, as is a Norwegian maiden from his past Tora Arnasson and at times we follow their actions and leave Elizaveta behind.
One of eleven children Elizaveta is the eldest daughter and she wants more from her life than to marry a king and produce heirs. She is headstrong, stubborn and strongwilled with dreams of doing more than sit in the women’s chambers and amuse herself. She has big dreams of being queen and ruling alongside her king to better the kingdom. She is smart, sassy and educated and she wants more from her life than being a quiet, dignified princess. I loved her character, she was passionate and not afraid to say what she thought.
For someone without a great background in history this was an engaging lesson about a pivotal time in English history. The bulk of the novel was set in Kiev and Norway but there were always eyes on England with a view to the English throne.
The years of the novel are rife with fighting and war, invading armies and conquering new countries. It was a bloody time in history with Queens left at home to govern kingdoms, raise heirs and hope that their husbands would return. Many of the matches made in this time were for the good of kingdoms, to strengthen treaties, to expand borders and love was not a consideration. Elizaveta was lucky enough to marry for love, a love that burned with passion and drove the ambitions of both of them.
The Constant Queen is not a quick or a light read but it is an enjoyable journey back to a time almost a millenium ago; back to the times of the Vikings and the birth of the Norwegian capital Oslo.
I haven’t read The Chosen Queen, the first in the trilogy, but I really don’t think that affected my enjoyment of this second book. I would be interested one day to go back and read the first, and also to read the third; from what I gather they all cover similar time periods culminating in 1066 but follow different queens.
The Constant Queen is an engaging piece of history bringing to light the life of a fascinating woman who did her best to live by her own rules and didn’t always do what was expected of her. She was courageous, strong and passionate and I’m glad Courtney has brought her story to life.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan 10 of our Beauty and Lace club members will be reading and reviewing The Constant Queen so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments.