I checked out this audiobook by Susan Fraser King from my library on impulse and was oddly underwhelmed by it and I have no idea why. The writing is good and the narration by Wanda McCaddon is amazing. It’s about a strong woman in Medieval Scotland fighting for her place in a man’s world, with a little bit of magic thrown in for good measure. What’s not to love? This book should have been right up my alley, and yet I just found myself going “meh”. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for it.
I think part of the problem is I was initially expecting something close to Shakespeare’s play, but that’s not at all what this is about. This is based on the true life of the woman who was the basis for Shakespeare’s famous femme fatale.
Her name is Lady Gruadh, but since the English priest can’t pronounce that (since this is around the same time Christianity is working its way into the British Isles) he calls her “Rue,” and she makes so much trouble that the name seems to suit her.
Our introduction to Gruadh is her counting how many times she’s been kidnapped as a young child. As the only daughter of a prince of Scotland and granddaughter of a king, she has royal blood from both sides of her family, making her a very valuable target to anyone who wants to use her connections to increase their own status and power. The book starts with a description of her latest kidnapping and rescue, followed by her insistence on learning how to wield a sword so she won’t have to rely on guards 24/7.
So she grows up and is married off to some guy whose name I can’t remember. They barely know each other when they get married, but they learn to like each other and he impregnates her, but is killed by Macbeth before the child is born. Macbeth then forces Gruadh to marry him, which she does most unwillingly, but she really doesn’t have a choice.
Over the years, though, Gruadh comes to like Macbeth, too. She has a hard time getting pregnant by him, and when she does get pregnant, has a hard time carrying the child to term, but Macbeth treats her ex-husband’s son as his own, even after Gruadh is finally able to successfully bear him children of his own.
Gruadh’s mother died when she was very young, but she learned a little bit of magic from her and she also inherited a bit of The Sight. Not often, but a few times in her life she has visions, including one of Macbeth wearing a crown. Contrary to Shakespeare’s account, Gruadh does not encourage Macbeth to kill in order to take the throne, but finds out after she marries him that he already has ambitions of his own.
When Macbeth finally does kill the king, it was he, and not Macbeth, who was the aggressor. He was practically a tyrant, and by comparison, Macbeth’s reign was much more peaceful and prosperous. In fact, after Macbeth takes the throne, there’s talk of killing the former king’s young son – a child – in order to prevent him from growing up and coming after Macbeth. Gruadh is horrified at the thought of killing a child and manages to talk them out of it, and sure enough, he comes back as an adult and kills Macbeth.
Although I didn’t give this book a lot of stars myself, I won’t tell anyone not to read it. On the contrary, if you were a fan of The Mists of Avalon, you’d probably enjoy this book, since it takes place around the same time and maintains a lot of the same elements: strong women, mysticism, Christianity versus the old gods. I should probably let this one sit for a while and come back to it when I’m more inclined to enjoy it.
What did you read this week? Anything else that left you underwhelmed and you’re not sure why?