I received a copy of Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King from the publisher for review.
About the Book:
Margaret and her family, royal Saxons fleeing from the Normans who have taken England, are shipwrecked on the shore of Scotland. They seek sanctuary from King Malcolm, hoping the king will aid Edgar, Margaret’s brother, in his campaign for the crown of England. Margaret wants nothing more than to enter the monastery, yet there are whispers that Malcolm is in need of a wife.
To the north, Macbeth’s widowed queen, Lady Gruadh, reigns, resisting Malcolm’s authority at every step. His latest demand is that Gruadh’s granddaughter, the celebrated female bard Eva, be sent to his court as a royal hostage. Fiercely proud and loyal, Eva is drawn into the battleground between Malcolm and Gruadh.
Told in limited third person that moves from Margaret to Eva and back, Queen Hereafter tells of the early years spent by Margaret of Scotland in her new country.
I didn’t know much about Scotland during this period of history prior to reading Queen Hereafter, except for what little I’d learned from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Susan Fraser King has an earlier novel, Lady Macbeth, that I initially thought perhaps I should have read first. Nonetheless, after taking a few chapters to straighten out the messy politics and learn everyone’s name, I had my bearings and really enjoyed Queen Hereafter.
Margaret is the sort of character you admire because she is so good. She is charitable, graceful, wise, loving and pious almost to a fault. She sets high expectations for those around her, and even higher ones for herself. No matter that the role she is given isn’t her first choice; she embraces her duties fully and carries them out to the best of her abilities. It’s no wonder she’s such a legend. As King points out in her Author’s Note, much is know about Margaret, and many of the anecdotes included in Queen Hereafter are recorded elsewhere as true.
Proud and independent, Eva provides another perspective on Margaret, someone to provide a look at Margaret through different eyes. She does this, yet she is also a distinct character herself. Torn between competing loyalties, Eva must navigate the narrow path between Gruadh and Margaret. From the first pages we know her situation is grave; we see her in her prison cell, then the story jumps back in time to Margaret’s first landing in Scotland.
Queen Hereafter shows only the beginning of Margaret’s time in Scotland, exploring how the escaped Saxon princess started on the road to fame and legend. Built around Eva’s story, Margaret’s tale and character unfold naturally. The two stories complement one another well and keep the novel moving along. While the men are certainly present in the story, it is the women on whom Queen Hereafter focuses.
The writing was neither too light nor too heavy, as can be the case with some historical fiction. Sometimes I feel historical dialogue is either too modern to be believable or too archaic to follow, but King’s novel struck a nice balance. Also, I enjoyed hearing about which characters chose which language in what situation as well as who could understand which languages. Though nearly all of the novel is in English (with a few bits of Gaelic and Latin sprinkled in), it is clear that Gaelic, English, Latin, German, and French are all utilized by different characters, depending on the situation.
I think solid fans of historical fiction will enjoy Queen Hereafter, but I also think it would be a great novel for someone who doesn’t read much historical fiction and would like to give it a try. It’s very accessible while still providing a lot of history and a fascinating story. As for me, Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King is going onto my TBR list right away!
Do you enjoy historical fiction? What is your favorite time period?