Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King

I am granddaughter to a king and daughter to a prince, a wife twice over, a queen as well. I have fought with sword and bow, and
struggled fierce to bear my babes into this world.
I have loved deeply and hated deeply, too.

Lady Gruadh, called Rue, is the last female descendent of Scotland’s most royal line. Married to a powerful northern lord, she is widowed while still carrying his child and forced to marry her husband’s murderer: a rising war-lord named Macbeth. Encountering danger from Vikings, Saxons, and treacherous Scottish lords, Rue begins to respect the man she once despised–and then realizes that Macbeth’s complex ambitions extend beyond the borders of the vast northern region. Among the powerful warlords and their steel-games, only Macbeth can unite Scotland–and his wife’s royal blood is the key to his ultimate success.

Determined to protect her small son and a proud legacy of warrior kings and strong women, Rue invokes the ancient wisdom and secret practices of her female ancestors as she strives to hold her own in a warrior society. Finally, side by side as the last Celtic king and queen of Scotland, she and Macbeth must face the gathering storm brought on by their combined destiny.

From towering crags to misted moors and formidable fortresses, Lady Macbeth transports readers to the heart of eleventh-century Scotland, painting a bold, vivid portrait of a woman much maligned by history.

For most people, the main thing that would be associated with the name Lady Macbeth are the following words from Shakespeare:

Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!—One; two: why, then'tis time to do't.—Hell is

murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, andafeard? What need we fear who knows it,
when none can call ourpow'r to accompt?—Yet who would have thought the old man
tohave had so much blood in him?

If you pick up this book expecting to see anything like this, you are bound to be disappointed, but if you are interested in finding out some of the historical background to this particular character then this could be the book for you.

Lady Gruad is born into the Royal family of Scotland making her a very desirable marriage match due to her pure bloodlines. After being kidnapped twice, once when she is very nearly of marriagable age, her father decides that it is time to marry her off, and she is married to Gilcomgan of Moray against her wishes. A relatively short time after, Rue is heavily pregnant when she is widowed. Her husband has been killed by Macbeth in one of the many power struggles that dominated the Scottish political scene in the late 11th century, and particularly in revenge for the murder of Macbeth's father by Gilcomgan. Macbeth himself is descended from King Duncan, and so when he forces Rue to marry him immediately following her first husband's death (all spoils to the victor!) he bolsters his own claim to the throne of Scotland even though his grandfather the King has named another as his successor in a break from the traditional way that the kings of Scotland have been chosen.

By marrying Rue, Macbeth becomes Mormaer of Moray, a powerful and rich lord, but it is through his efforts to be a fair and generous ruler to his people that he gains their loyalty. For a long time he is prepared to not make any challenges to the throne, but when his life and those of his young family are threatened things change, and Macbeth becomes King of Scotland and Rue his queen.

There are many details of life in Scotland in 11th century within the book: the struggle for peace with both the Vikings and the English, the struggle between the Church in Rome and the Celtic church as well as weaving in many superstitions, omens and spells.

It was interesting to read the life of a Queen who involved herself in her husband's life to such an extent as Rue did, including in policy making, and it is inferred within the novel that the two came to value and respect each other, and yes perhaps love each other. There were however still plenty of examples where she was left behind and it is in those times that we begin to see how much Rue is affected by the portents and omens that she can see, and how it effects the decisions that she makes for the future, and in particular how determined she becomes to protect the old ways of life.

Whilst I enjoyed this book, it didn't quite make it to the status of a great read for me. I never felt truly immersed in the book. Part of the reason for this may be the first person narrative, but I don't think that it was the only factor. For much of the time I was outside of the book. In my favourite HF novels, I would be there with the characters, wrapped in furs trying to keep warm in the middle of a harsh Scottish winter, but with this book I was still firmly in the 21st century looking back through a window of time.

Cross posted at Historical Tapestry


  1. This sounds like something that would definitely interest me. I love re-tellings of famous stories from the perspective of a different character. It would be great to read more about Lady MacBeth including all the Scottish history.

  2. Hi, Marg! Is it better to have read Macbeth before you read this, or doesn't it matter?


  3. I wondered about this one--I had it checked out from the library, but I never got around to reading it. I think I should read Macbeth first anyway, which I hope to still do this year.

  4. Rhinoa, it was very interesting, so it is worth giving a go.

    Lezlie and Danielle, I really don't think that reading Macbeth first would make that much difference, so I would go ahead and read them.