The first in a trilogy of novels centering around Emma of Normandy, queen of two kings of England and mother of Edward the Confessor, this is not a pretty tale of the parties in an arranged marriage finding love. It seems pretty well agreed that Emma's first husband, Æthelred the Unready (I've heard that Ill-Counseled is a better translation), was not a pleasant man, and Bracewell postulates (though with no evidence, she admits) an ill-starred love between the queen and her oldest stepson that provides dramatic tension, along with a rivalry with another woman, along with her powerful Northern family, who had hoped to become Æthelred's wife. Of course, so little is known that there is ample room for the novelist to conjecture, but there doesn't seem to be anything that is beyond probability. The characters are well-drawn and, even when not sympathetic, are given humanity and motivations for even some of their worse actions. I look forward to reading the next book about this compelling medieval woman.