Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review: The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick

The Forever QueenWelcome to the participants of the Sourcebooks Fall Reading Club!  This season we're reading The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick.  Following my review below are more details about the the Club and and upcoming chat with Helen herself!

*     *     *
In the year 1002 A.D., Emma, the young daughter of the Duke of Normandy was wed to King AEthelred of England.  At ages 34 and 13, neither Aethelred nor Emma had any romantic feelings towards the other.  This was purely a political transaction between two strangers, with England hoping to secure a better relationship with Normandy through this union.

So begins The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick.  Spanning 40 years of Queen Emma’s life, Hollick’s readers are given epic exposure to people and events that truly occurred in world history, as well as plenty of literary license to create an exciting and rich novel.

The Forever Queen has many admirable qualities.  Helen Hollick has clearly done her historical homework, not only making these events educational for me, but entertaining as well.  She doesn’t give an overabundance of details, yet I felt transported back to that time period.  There were moments when I could almost smell some of the aromas (both foul and lovely) wafting about the story.

Unlike some royals in historical fiction, I found Emma to be a likeable person.  We meet her at such a tender age, completely naïve and inexperienced in every way as a Queen.  Her years with Aethelred are difficult, yet she consistently maintains her sense of personal pride, even when she feels that it’s the only thing she has left to cling to.  As the years pass, we see her mature as a woman and as a leader of her people.  She devotes her heart and soul to England, not just to retain her crown during times of tumultuous change, but also for the betterment of the people.

While the novel frequently seemed like a continuous and repetitive chess match of characters vying for power, there were also moments that stood apart with significance and dramatic tension.  Emma loses some special and rare friends, with one death in particular being horribly tragic and traumatizing for her.  Later in life she goes through another agonizing trial at the beach that literally had me sitting on the edge of my seat.  Death, political game play, relational troubles and triumphs are everywhere.  Although the novel’s pages number at over 600, the plot never really slows down.

Probably my biggest challenge in the book was the massive cast of characters with their 11th Century names.  It was very difficult to keep everyone straight, as the strangely foreign names were both prolific and similar in spelling.  Although there is a family tree and pronunciation guide at the front of the book, I still felt the need to construct a spreadsheet to keep track of the characters and some of the details of their lives!  However, Ms. Hollick was telling a story based largely on historical facts, so it wasn’t as if she was being overly enthusiastic in her cast list.

The Forever Queen was an enjoyable read, but I cannot say that it’s my favorite historical novel.  The repetitive nature of the political plot became tedious at times, and moments of mirth weren’t exactly liberally sprinkled throughout.  However, with this story being somewhat based in reality, it’s not as if the story’s tone can be altered significantly and still retain its authenticity.  The time period stands for itself—it was not an easy era in which to live.  There was no Geneva Convention to hold back wartime atrocities, and women had little to no power in their governments and marriages.  Emma herself spent much of her time trying to overcome her social & political limitations as a female. 

If you enjoy epic historical novels, The Forever Queen might be a good match for you.  As mentioned, the plot never slows down, yet it’s not hectic in pacing either.  Emma is an admirable character and I frequently found myself rooting for her.   However, if you’re looking for a tale that has more than a small handful of uplifting moments, you might need to look elsewhere.  I did enjoy Helen Hollick’s writing, as it was captivating and unpretentious.  I still have her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy on my shelf, waiting to be read.  And although my experience with The Forever Queen wasn’t perfect, I’m still very impressed with this author and look forward to diving into her Arthurian trilogy in the near future.

*     *     *
The Sourcebooks Fall Reading Club Tour
Stop by and see what other readers are saying about The Forever Queen!

November 1, 2010

November 2

November 3

November 4

November 5

November 8

November 9

November 10

November 11

November 12

November 15

November 16

November 17

November 18

November 19

Also, the Book Club Chat will be on The Bibliophilic’s Book Blog on Monday, November 22, from 7-9pm EST. Please join us whenever you can. Helen will also be chiming in from the UK!!

Thanks for stopping by The Calico Critic!

This title was provided to me by Sourcebooks Landmark.
No obligation other than an honest review was required



  1. thanks for a very honest and fair review. Writing the political situations was difficult at times - that is the drawback with historical fiction, you are writing what did actually happen so the plot is dictated. Had I cut out the important political machinations I'd be hounded for not following fact!
    What best to do? Stick to the facts or alter history - and risk not being accurate?

    As an author you can't win!

  2. Helen:

    Wow! I'm honored that you stopped by! And I hope you don't take my review as being 100% negative. Even though it's not my favorite, I would say that you did win on this one. The "Climbing the Cliff" scene alone was incredible, and I enjoyed how you characterized Emma.

    Can't wait to see what you did with Pendragon!



  3. Laura - on the contrary, it was good to get honest feedback. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism.
    What I do object to is unfair criticism, which can often border on spite. Not everyone enjoys reading the same thing - what a boring world it would be if we did!

    This was a very hard book to write, because of all the political moves and such a large cast of characters with unfamiliar names.
    The original UK version of the book (A Hollow Crown) is 40,000 words longer, and I think, having edited Forever Queen, that version is 40,000 words too long. Unfortunately, my UK publisher will not consider re-printing with the better, shorter, version.

    My favourite scene is where Emma climbs the cliffs. The first editor I was working with at Sourcebooks wanted me to cut it out.... I flatly refused!

    Following on from this book is I Am The Chosen King to be published in March 2011 (UK edition is called Harold the King) I think perhaps you will enjoy this one a little more. Hope so!

  4. You're right-- poisonous reviews are just not necessary!

    I'm SO glad you kept the cliff scene! Thanks for standing up for it!




Related Posts with Thumbnails