Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Aethelflaed’s character has been an interesting one to read about for a long while. It is clear that the story is developing, bit-by-bit, and this book by Ms Jones is one further step in that range. The overview is good and thorough though the prose is awfully uninspiring.
The author treats the life of Aethelflaed in many separate phases — first as warrior, then a builder and founder, and lastly as educator and philistine. While most of this is based on actual historical evidence, there is plenty that falls apart as the author starts to prefer an imagined past at the expense of the proven one (also, very irritatingly changing the tense she writes in when these mental jumps from the proven to the imagined take place). As such, this could be a wonderful historical novel to show light on the character if it wasn’t as dry as it is — and if it did not have the academic feel to it.
This means that for me the book fails both as a work of narrative history as well as historical fiction. The author’s wish for this to be the former is clear though she’s not taken it there. Yet, some chapters — especially the ones that involve the character’s depiction in modern media — are eminently worthwhile even if the rest of the academic work leaves much to be desired.
However, the crowning point of this work still is Aethelflaed herself — and we deserve to know a lot more about this Mercian monarch!