Book Review: BLOOD QUEEN by Joanna Courtney

Title in white on red next to a gold jewellery cross
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating:
Series: yes - first in companion series

Synopsis:

Book Cover for BLOOD QUEEN: title in white on red with gold swirling border and gold jewellery cross

Cold. Ruthless. Deadly. The myth of Lady Macbeth looms large. But behind the villainous portrait stands a real woman. This is her story . . .

Scotland, 1020 AD – King Malcolm II is fading fast. It is North vs South, for two families have a claim on the inheritance of his crown. Who will gain the Scottish throne?

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, a flushed and nervous Cora MacDuff waits to marry her sweetheart, Macbeth. But her dreams are about to be stolen from her as the night she was hoping for turns into a brutal slaughter. In order to reclaim the life she was promised, she will learn to use every weapon at her disposal – even her son.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

Macbeth is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays – certainly my favourite of the tragedies. It’s also one of the few things I studied at school and did not loathe despite the way it was taught pretty much making me despise all but one other piece of literature on the five years of syllabus. So, naturally, I was intrigued by a historical fiction that retells what we think is the real history behind the play.

Being Shakespeare, the play is nothing like the history. The history got very mangled by distant chroniclers recording hearsay and writing it with agendas (don’t displease the king!), and then Shakespeare in true fashion mangled it further. The only similarity between the play and the history is the Anglicised names (Macbeth, Malcom, etc.) Luckily, I have done some of my own research into the history behind the play, so I was aware of that, otherwise it would have been very jarring to read these very familiar names in a completely foreign story.

It is a very interesting tale. Scottish history is very neglected in England, and it’s one of those tales that involved feuds, rival claims, and the throne passing many hands. The historical note explains where the author added things, had to guess which version was true or fill in gaps, and where things were altered for the story.

However, the thing that’s always drawn me to Macbeth the play is the darkness, the descent from loyal retainer to murderer to grief-fuelled madness all in the pursuit of power. And this story completely lacks that. There is no descent, no inner darkness people are struggling with. It’s is a throne that represents security and/or restitution for the two women, both of whom see it as their right or that of their children. But despite them both seeking the throne, neither really have a dark side they fight with, or give into. They just seem… normal and it makes them rather dull. There’s nothing sparking about their personalities.

The other thing that was rather disappointing was the absence of the battles. Two are vaguely watched, and one run away from, but most of the time, the action happens off page, and then there’s the post-battle reaction – sometimes days or weeks later. It really watered down the impact of the battles, not seeing and feeling the elation or shame of defeat. It felt so stepped back from the moment, like I was watching everything from afar. I wanted to know how the people felt during the battle, what it meant for them, not the weak reactions later.

Each chapter starts with quite a small location and time marker, but you really need to pay attention to the time markers, as they’re about the only way you can tell if the chapter comes straight after the last one, or if four years have passed. There are a lot of time jumps, and if you weren’t paying attention to the markers, it could be a few pages into the chapter before the passage of time was made clear.

There are two other books in this series, retelling what we currently think might be the history behind Hamlet and King Lear. Another two plays I like, so I’ll probably check them out, but with the awareness that time jumps might be a thing, and battles might not be on page.


Read my reviews of other books by Joanna Courtney:

Shakespeare’s Queens (this series):

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