REVIEWED BY KAREN BYROM
I’ve waited a long time for a new historical novel from Joanna Courtney, author of the Queens of the Conquest trilogy…
Under the name Anna Stuart, she has been off writing a contemporary novel Bonnie and Stan. Reading this thought-provoking tender story of life-long love, I could forgive her anything.
But still I’m glad that she has not wholly turned her back on the historical genre – nor lost any of her story-telling skill.
Blood Queen is centred around Lady Macbeth – not the conniving, murderous queen of Shakespeare’s play, but the real-life wife of Macbeth, Mormaer of Moray, a handsome, courageous prince with strong claims to the throne of Alba.
We meet Lady Macbeth when she is still Cora Macduff, sixteen, and orphaned by ruthless King Malcolm, who is determined to rid himself of all pretenders to his throne.
But even as she prepares to marry Macbeth, Cora faces more violence as their stronghold is attacked on their wedding eve. Macbeth is forced to flee while Cora becomes a spoil of war, married to a brutal man.
Cora vows revenge
Desire for revenge burns in her heart and when Macbeth finally returns, he takes up her cause, swearing he’ll put her son Lachlan on the throne of Alba.
Meanwhile, down in Dunkeld, Malcolm II is busy consolidating the succession by marrying his son Duncan to Lady Sybill, a refugee from Denmark who has impressed him with her resilience and strength. Her son, Malcolm, will be king after Duncan.
The stage is set for almighty clashes between the different dynasties as the two mothers play their part in the political upheaval of eleventh century Scotland, each determined that her son, and hers alone, will be King of Alba.
Beautifully researched to tell the real story of the fight for the throne of Scotland, this story is as atmospheric as it is thrilling.
Lochs and mountains, abbeys and forts, crannogs and caves – all are vividly described as the seasons turn in Alba. Battle scenes are bloody, but alleviated by the calm between each storm when Cora and Sybill can play with their sons, make love with their husbands and enjoy the whisky distilled by cunning monk Cullen, who has a foot in both camps.
Despite their ambitious and often bloodthirsty aims, the characters are all convincing and empathetic. Who could not feel for Cora or for Sybill after all each has been through? It’s a tribute to Joanna Courtney’s skill that you find yourself hoping both will have a happy ending.
While that’s not possible, the book’s ending is eminently satisfactory.
There are no witches here, no ghost of Banquo, just the tale of strong women and men whose unshakable belief in their destiny makes for as thrilling a tale as any Shakespeare could tell.