Author: Joanna Courtney
Publisher: Piatkus Books
First Published: 05 September 2019
Rating: 5 stars
“It made her angry. If he thought he would somehow grind her down into the pattern of a meek, submissive woman, he was very much mistaken.”
Shakespeare’s Ophelia was a lover, a madwoman and a victim. The real Ofelia is a very different story: a leader, a fighter and a fiercely independent woman .
As a young girl, Ofelia stood frozen as her mother threw herself on her father’s funeral pyre. Such is the fate, she learned, of the devoted wife and in that moment, she swore never to belong to any man.
Years later, she is a force to be reckoned with: right hand woman to the newly crowned Prince Hamlet, to whom she has sworn her sword and her undying loyalty, but refuses his true desire . . . her hand in marriage.
When Hamlet’s jealous uncle plots against him, Ofelia will have to use every wile at her disposal to keep her prince safe from those who wish him harm. Yet in the end, it could be her unruly heart that is the greatest betrayer of all.
This is the second instalment of Joanna Courtney’s Shakespeare’s Queens series. Fire Queen unearths the history and reality of Ophelia and Denmark’s doomed Prince Hamlet.
I’ve loved everything Courtney’s published so far. I always reach for her books when I’m in the mood for some dark ages historical fiction. Fire Queen was no exception.
I am not too familiar with the story of Hamlet and Ophelia, all I know is he is doomed and she suffered from madness. But that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story.
Ofelia watched her mother throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. While everyone seems to revere her mother’s act of devotion, all Ofelia can see is that her mother has abandoned her family. She hardens her heart, vowing that she will never belong to a man. She will not lose her sense of self. She throws herself into training and become one of Denmark’s valued warrior and Hamlet’s constable. I found Ofelia to be a refreshing character, she has shunned her femininity and dedicated to her life to become a warrior. Often when you see powerful women in historical fiction they have gained their power through their sons or husbands, but not in Ofelia’s case. She’s unyielding in her opinions and doesn’t conform to societal roles.
Hamlet comes across as this adorable young man. He doesn’t have the drive to take back his throne. At every step, Ofelia is there to help him to rally troops, gain alliances, win battles and all-round doing everything she can to keep him alive. She also pushes him to take charge and demand he takes revenge. Hamlet is more cautious; he wants to make sure his alliances with Briton Lord Aethelfrith and Lord Aedan are secure before setting sail. To cement these alliances he marries Lady Flora and Lady Mari.
Hamlet is hopeless in love with Ofelia. He will do anything for her but it’s doomed from the start. Ofelia is stubborn and will not budge from her vows. When she rejects his hand in marriage, Hamlet elects her as his constable, the king’s most trusted advisor. My heart broke when Hamlet reached the point where he couldn’t keep pining after her. Instead, he turns his attention to developing a relationship with his first wife, Flora. But time and time again, Hamlet is drawn back to Ofelia.
I adored Flora. She is sweet and caring, which is at opposition to Ofelia’s hard and abrupt nature. Flora is a healer and spends her days tending to her herbs. She harbours no ill will to Ofelia even once she learns of the nature of her and Hamlet’s relationship.
The era of Seventh-Century Denmark just about leaps of the page. The setting is vivid and helped along with Courtney’s writing style. The Norse culture is present throughout the storytelling. The gods are invoked and are the reason behind everything, from the sun setting to a winning battle strategy.
One of the most interesting aspects is the clash of cultures between the Pagan Danes and the Christian Britons. Lady Mari is a devote Christian, who hoped to be sent to a nunnery before she’s married off to Hamlet. It was interesting to see the bible stories we know so well through the eyes of the Pagans. It was also interesting to see some similarities in some of the religious tales.
Overall, I loved everything about Fire Queen. The next instalment, Iron Queen, is about Cordelia, daughter of King Lear. I’m excited to get to it. We have another year until it’s released so maybe this time I’ll read the play beforehand.