Friday, February 10, 2012

Queen Hereafter

"Refugee. Queen. Saint. In eleventh-century Scotland, a young woman strives to fulfill her destiny despite the risks . . .

Shipwrecked on the Scottish coast, a young Saxon princess and her family—including the outlawed Edgar of England—ask sanctuary of the warrior-king Malcolm Canmore, who shrewdly sees the political advantage. He promises to aid Edgar and the Saxon cause in return for the hand of Edgar’s sister, Margaret, in marriage.

A foreign queen in a strange land, Margaret adapts to life among the barbarian Scots, bears princes, and shapes the fierce warrior Malcolm into a sophisticated ruler. Yet even as the king and queen build a passionate and tempestuous partnership, the Scots distrust her. When her husband brings Eva, a Celtic bard, to court as a hostage for the good behavior of the formidable Lady Macbeth, Margaret expects trouble. Instead, an unlikely friendship grows between the queen and her bard, though one has a wild Celtic nature and the other follows the demanding path of obligation.
Torn between old and new loyalties, Eva is bound by a vow to betray the king and his Saxon queen. Soon imprisoned and charged with witchcraft and treason, Eva learns that Queen Margaret—counseled by the furious king and his powerful priests—will decide her fate and that of her kinswoman Lady Macbeth. But can the proud queen forgive such deep treachery?"

Why are all blurbs so inaccurate these days? I guess not too inaccurate, just...intentionally misleading on one or two points.

Another Scotland novel, and this one a historical fiction piece to boot. Margaret of Scotland is a new heroine for me, and one I may choose to read more about from other authors. Susan Fraser King's novel is a tight, well paced, well written work that left me wanting more...just not from that same author. One gets the feeling that Ms. King does not like Malcom Canmore and so is unable to render him clearly. Instead she sketches a bear of a man and pushes him off to the side where he can do little harm and she is not obligated to make him into a hero for anyone.

Margaret herself is a difficult woman to like in this novel. No, better said she is a difficult woman to love. One can like her, as the protagonist Eva does, for her brief moments of intelligence and goodness. But she is incompletely drawn. Rather than a living woman, the author gives us a holy statue, somewhat wooden even. Her saintly ways (holy anorexia anyone?) and sharp perfectionist temper are not balanced by a sympathetic look into her heart. Indeed, the author begins the novel allowing us to see into Margaret's thoughts, but shortly we leave them never to re-enter. It's an unsatisfied potential, and I'm sorry for it.

All of this means that what could have been a lovely trip into one of the most fabled romances of Scottish history fell short. Margaret and Malcolm have all the makings of Beauty and the Beast (as the author herself notes in her afterward), yet their relationship is a cold one here. Brief moments of closeness between the two, as seen through the eyes of a fictional protagonist, barely whet the appetite for more. The author uses Eva as protagonist to avoid trying to write through the voice of a saint. I can't help feeling Margaret would have made a much more interesting sole protagonist. Neither can I shake the notion that this author did not like Malcom and was too afraid to humanize St. Margaret to give their story the best telling. Ah well. At least Ms. King made wise plot decisions which cut down the timeline and make the book a smoother read than pure history would have allowed.

Rating: Three kilts and a bottle of Scotch. I'm glad I read it, and now I need to find another book about this woman.

No comments:

Post a Comment