Book Review – To Be a Queen by Annie Whitehead
Annie Whitehead has boldly delved into a little known era and brought to life one of it's shadow legends; the daughter of Alfred the Great who learned to rule in her own right. As Whitehead points out in her forward, England at this time, was not one nation but several. Her main character, Aethelflaed, whom she nicknames, Teasel, starts as a child having grown up in Mercia (one of England's kingdoms) though she is the daughter of a 'West Saxon'. The two nations, North (Mercia) and South (Wessex) are meant to be allies against the Vikings but end up having a very rough alliance and there are many unnecessary skirmishes and in fighting. In the book, Whitehead has her main character, Teasel, bring the two kingdoms to solidarity through support of both her father (king of Wessex) and husband (king of Mercia).
The story is epic and told in beautiful detail. Annie Whitehead has done her research, but she at no time 'info drops' on the reader. There are language and heritage guides at the back of the book, but reading the story, I found it easy to pick up Saxon words as Whitehead introduced them. She brings to life not only the era but the individuals that are often glossed over in history.
As the book starts with Aethelflaed as a child in Mercia, continues with her childhood in Wessex, then follows her life as she grows before finally becoming first the wife of a great leader, then a leader herself, and then her death... well, it's a long tale. For those who want to dive into the past and live every moment surrounded with that era, this book is the one. For those wanting a good story, this will fit the bill too. However, be warned, there are some slow scenes where we get to know Teasel and her family well, and the made up romance between Teasel and one of her husband's trusted warriors slowed the story down more in my opinion. Even so, I enjoyed reading To Be a Queen and highly recommend it to readers of Anglo-Saxon history and historic fiction.