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Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland    by Susan Fraser King order for
Queen Hereafter
by Susan Fraser King
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Susan Fraser King, author of the excellent Lady Macbeth (in which Lady Gruadh is a very different and much more admirable woman than seen in Shakespeare's version), now brings readers Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland. Readers of the previous book will appreciate Lady Gruadh's appearances in this one, mainly through her interactions with her granddaughter (Lulach's daughter), Eva the Bard. Gruadh (last of the Celtic queens) is now regent of Moray and not a friend of King Malcolm's

In an Author's Note at the end, King tells us that Margaret and Malcolm's story is indeed 'Fairy tales and romance', well supported by medieval documents such as a 'rare detailed biography written by her personal confessor'. The author does an admirable job of turning what is known of fact about this 'intense young woman of piety, conscience, charity, compassion, and intelligence' into fiction. She achieves this by showing parts of Margaret's life through the eyes of a totally fictional character, Eva.

Margaret was the elder daughter of Saxon Prince Edward, who was recalled from exile in Hungary to be heir to the throne of England. When he died a week after arrival, Margaret's brother Edward was declared heir. Soon after their royal uncle died, William of Normandy invaded and took the throne. As Queen Hereafter opens in 1069, the Saxon royalty flee to Scotland, where Malcolm gives them shelter and sanctuary. In England, Margaret had developed a taste for the monastic life and worries that her family might require her to wed the barbaric Scottish king, which of course they do.

King portrays Margaret as a pious and very kind young woman, empathetic to the common folk and yet with a strong sense of how to present the monarchy in a good light to both the people of Scotland and to foreign courts. She and Eva become friends after Malcolm demands the renowned young bard's presence at his court, for her skills and also as a hostage for Moray. Gruadh agrees but asks her granddaughter to spy on Malcolm and especially to find out about a book of history that he has commissioned (which she is sure will portray a false record of both Macbeth's and Lulach's reigns).

Though resentful of Malcolm's occasional deroragtory comments about her father Lulach (and getting in trouble for showing it), Eva soon respects Margaret's 'grace and purity', likes her for herself, and encourages her to look after her health better (especially during her frequent pregnancies). Eva feels that 'Within Margaret's heart was the seed of an extraordinary life not lived.' She becomes less and less comfortable with what her grandmother has asked of her. And when Gruadh finally meets Margaret, even that fierce lady admits, 'The wider world comes to Scotland ... through you.'

Though I missed the pagan magics that cropped up in Lady Macbeth, I found this sequel a delightful story of a significant era and a remarkable woman (who exercised great power with great compassion) in Scottish history. If you enjoy a very well written and well researched historical, you don't want to miss Queen Hereafter.

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