This is the story of Gruadh inghean Bodhe mac Cinead mhic Dubh and her destiny --- to fulfill her role as Lady Macbeth --- woven around the history of 11th-century Scotland and its ancient myths and legends. It is a time when constant battles were fought for honor and land. Vikings roamed the seas while Celts clashed with Saxons on land. Much blood was shed in the pursuit of supremacy and the preservation of the family lineage and heritage. Yet Macbeth’s own blood colors the old soil it was spilled upon centuries ago.
In this era of harsh brutality, warring clans and constant struggle for power, marriages were strategically arranged to better the family’s position. Women were like gambling chips. Stack the land holdings well, and one may be able to control fortunes for generations --- possibly even claim the crown.
Gruadh, born into a noble family of Fife, is a willful young woman. Her mother taught her to be strong, even in her youth, for Gruadh grew up in a house ruled by men. But life for her is good, her childhood nearly idyllic. Until she reaches a marriageable age. A mate is picked for her, one that will better her father’s status, but one that she herself despises. Despite all her chants, charms and pleas, she is betrothed to Lord Gillecomgan of Moray, a stocky man with a violent background and considerable wealth. At one point, Macbeth warned her against the marriage, having a personal grudge against Gillecomgan. While Macbeth himself would make a good pairing for Gruadh, he is already married. Besides, she likes him little more than she likes Gillecomgan.
Rue, for she is called that, continues to consult the omens, pray fervently and watch for signs of her future. Shortly before her wedding date, a vision comes to her, but she cannot make sense of it. “Often the meaning of the omens we see is not clear until later. If we knew too much about the future, we might be afraid to step from our houses,” she is told. “Do not fret --- the signs you saw speak of Scotland’s future even more than your own.” Finally, she acquiesces to her father’s wishes and, one day, climbs astride a horse to leave Fife for Moray beside her new husband.
Neither happy nor unhappy, Rue accepts her fate as Lady Moray and settles in at Elgin, taking over the domestic management of the household. Lord Gillecomgan rides out often to collect his revenues and ensure that the people of his region remain peaceful, if not loyal. Vikings to the north and usurpers to the south keep him busy with a sword. Then, one day, a messenger arrives home in his stead. It is Macbeth with news of tragedy. Even though Rue had not loved her husband, she had grown fond of him and now mourns the loss of a father for the child growing within her womb.
A new alliance is formed, with Rue unwillingly at its core. The success or failure of one’s lineage may hinge on who you bribe, marry, kill or align yourself with. Gruadh, now Lady Macbeth, knows this well. She may be headstrong, sometimes bordering on foolish, but she uses this knowledge to her ultimate advantage. She also knows a little of Celtic magic and spell casting, which she uses sparingly, relying more on swords and spears. While she and Macbeth have the love of the Scottish people, they also have strong enemies --- ones with long memories and relentless hatred.
Susan Fraser King works her own kind of magic with LADY MACBETH. Her readers are treated to a peek at the past, to an age of great danger and, yes, even great romance. It’s about time someone focused on the woman behind the great man.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on February 12, 2008