The Price of Blood is the second instalment of the Emma of Normandy series which delves deeper into the Viking raids and the terrible consequences for the people of England. As Emma continues to struggle to find her place, she is continually sidelined by her husband who resents her meddling in his affairs but Emma refuses to be cowed.
Aethelred, still haunted by the visions of his dead brother, sees enemies all around him and is becoming increasingly suspicious his eldest son, Athelstan, wants the throne for himself, hardly realising his son is actually coveting Emma. Seeing treachery around every corner, Aethelred deals with his enemies ruthlessly and buys the loyalty of others through selling his daughters in marriage. The king’s actions only serve to divide the English nobility at a time when they sorely need to unite if they are to defeat the fearsome Vikings who are intent on destroying everything in their path.
The Price of Blood is a far more absorbing novel than its predecessor, mainly because all of the introductions and the settings of the background are out of the way, and we can get straight into the story. The story more or less starts from where it ended in the previous book but the threat from the Vikings is far more pronounced and the sense of unease is very evident. The king, increasingly unstable, orders the death of Aelfhelm, the father of Elgiva, which leads to disruption in the north. Furthermore, the king’s preoccupation with those he perceives as enemies leads to a costly division amongst his men, including his eldest sons, and England’s future lies precariously in the balance as the Danes increase their raids.
Although Emma is a far stronger character in this book, she is powerless to intervene when Athelstan and the king become ever more estranged as the king has no respect for her opinions. Worried lest her secret love for Athelstan be revealed, Emma vows to stay away from him but fate continues to throw them together and Emma can only watch in fear as Athelstan is torn between his duty to his father and his duty to England. The relationship between Emma and Athelstan feels far more natural this time around, even though it is a complete fabrication, and you can’t help feeling a touch of sympathy for their plight. Much of Emma’s actions are thwarted by the king’s attitude, but there is a definite sense she is growing into her own and the king is increasingly unwise in dismissing her counsel.
On the flip side of the coin, the plot is enriched by the enemy point of view in the shape of Elgiva who manages to escape the king’s murder of her family. Elgiva ends up marrying Cnut, the son of the Danish king, and while his place in history needs no explanation, we aren’t quite given an insight into the Viking psyche as Elgiva spends a lot of time apart from him. While Elgiva seemed to spend most of her time on her back in Shadow on the Crown or making trouble for Emma, she has to rely on her own wits far more in the second book and I liked her all the more for it. Although Elgiva is still predominantly out to further her own ambitions, and doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process, it is hardly any different from the actions of the majority of the men in the book. I actually quite admired Elgiva’s determination to be the pawn of no man, and her independent spirit is in real danger of overshadowing Emma’s if the author isn’t careful.
As The Price of Blood comes to a conclusion, Aethelred has failed to deal with the Viking threat and has been forced to pay them a substantial amount of money to leave England alone, however an unlikely alliance with one of the Viking warriors catapults Emma into a powerful position. I’m hoping the new alliance will mean we see a lot more of the Danish in the next part, particularly Cnut who is already shaping up to be an intriguing character. There seems to be a whole lot of history yet to be packed into the trilogy and Cnut’s reign is still a long way off, so I hope we don’t get cheated out of the fireworks that are likely to develop between Elgiva and Emma over the prospects of their respective sons.