I remember as a child growing up in Nebraska, getting pretty excited as the weather was finally warming up enough to play outside for extended times and I relished every moment. For me, reading an excellent book is a great way to warm the mind and soul. And whenever I review a book that enthralled me, it gives me a sense of warmth as well, since it helps promote both the book and the author.
Annie Whitehead and I met online on Twitter just over a year ago. Her passion is the Saxon period in England, prior to William the Conqueror's victory. Specifically, she is a "go-to" expert on Mercia, once a delineated portion of central England. Annie writes both fiction and non-fiction, putting her scholarly knowledge to very good use. And she has a love for playing recorder, just like me!
This week, I'm featuring a review of Annie's in-depth look at a forgotten lady of Mercia. It's a powerful story that was a joy to read.
To Be A Queen
Reviewed by Brook Allen
I simply loved this book.
As a child of pre-Norman England, Aethelflaed is a Saxon woman who has been lost to history, but Whitehead reintroduces this heroine with aplomb and creativity. As a daughter of Alfred the Great, she must learn to set aside her own loves and emotions to rise as her people expect. To turn away from her heart’s desires is something she forces herself to learn, and truly this portion of the book is a powerful coming of age story that turns into a pleasing character arc.
Characters were fully realized, impactful, and drew me in. Whitehead's plotting was spot-on and the world-building was positively stellar. I love world-building that is sensual... that I can feel, taste, touch, smell, and hear. Whitehead is strong in this and it showed on every page. She does not shy away from battle-scenes, but forces the reader straight into the action, so that one's heart leaps at victories, and breaks at the death of a favorite warrior. Her research into the method of Anglo-Saxon warfare is obvious and I found myself comparing it to the Roman period, with which I'm more familiar.
This was one of the few books I've read on the Anglo-Saxon period. It was a terrifying time to be alive and politically, a confusing time with so many territories and factions. But have no fear! This is addressed with ease and given a logical, easy-to-follow approach with Whitehead as your guide, making this book a real page-turner. Perhaps most impressive were the SEVERAL character arcs given special attention: Aethelflaed, Ethelred, and Edward, in particular. This is a story about love of country, but especially about love and the importance of commitment, and how those virtues can triumph over all.
A gripping read and one to relish!
Annie Whitehead Bio
Annie has written three novels set in Anglo-Saxon England. To Be A Queen tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the turbulent tenth century where deaths of kings and civil war dictated politics, while Cometh the Hour tells the story of Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. All have received IndieBRAG Gold Medallions and Chill with a Book awards. To Be A Queen was longlisted for HNS Indie Book of the Year and was an IAN Finalist. Alvar the Kingmaker was Chill Books Book of the Month while Cometh the Hour was a Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month.
As well as being involved in 1066 Turned Upside Down, Annie has also had two nonfiction books published. Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) was published in paperback edition on October 15th, 2020, while her most recent release, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England (Pen & Sword Books) is available in hardback and e-book.
Annie was the inaugural winner of the Dorothy Dunnett/HWA Short Story Competition 2017.
Connect with Annie
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