Margaret lived during a brutal and tumultuous time in Britain’s history. Not long after arriving in England, her father died. No one was certain of the cause, but Margaret knew she was to blame. Her burden of guilt lasted a lifetime, and may be what molded her into who she became. As warring grew increasingly violent, the princess, along with her mother and sister, sought safety with the sisters at Romsey Abbey.
Shut away at Romsey….Margaret had discovered unexpected peace amid turmoil…Outside, her sole purpose would have been as a political bride, a living alliance expected to produce heirs.
At the abbey, Margaret found a happy existence. Despite greatly missing her brother Edgar, taken hostage by the English King William, she still had her sister Cristina with her and a pleasant sense of security among the nuns. A royal princess, she nonetheless wished to join the convent, positive that that was her destiny. Also, in devoting her life to God, she hoped to find forgiveness for that dark secret from deep in her past.
Then one day, Edgar, having escaped King William’s clutches, sends for his two sisters, spiriting them away from the growing peril in England. Fleeing north to Scotland, they find sanctuary with Malcolm Canmore, the Scottish king. Malcolm III fought his way onto the throne and can sorely use Edgar’s talents. And then, to Margaret’s dismay, King Malcolm turns his eye on her, desiring her hand in marriage. Refusing at first, Margaret finally --- and reluctantly --- agrees, realizing the value of such a pairing: a Saxon and a Scotsman. It may go far in helping to soothe some long-standing angers and could possibly unite even more regions of Scotland. Now Margaret’s dreams of becoming a nun are gone forever. But her devotion remains.
Almost immediately, to her utter surprise, she finds herself caring for the brutish king and anxiously awaiting his return whenever he goes away. During his absences, she puts her time to good use. A savvy woman, aware that many people aren’t happy with her marriage to Malcolm, Queen Margaret cleverly begins a campaign to win them over with kindness, generosity and alms. Her good deeds earn her much praise, yet some remain resentful.
Among her worst detractors is Lady Gruadh, and with good reason. Gruadh and King Macbeth were once well loved by their people, right up to the time that Malcolm killed Macbeth. Now Gruadh harbors a grudge so bitter that she sends her granddaughter Eva into peril, with a command to spy on Malcolm and his court.
But Eva the bard does better at her music than at spying. Despite her predisposition otherwise, Eva discovers that she likes and admires the queen. More and more, she is torn as to where her allegiance should lie. She loves her grandmother, but Queen Margaret is honest and kind. Eva has some hard decisions to make. Does she dare do as Gruadh asks? If she is found out, would the queen stand up for her? More importantly, could she escape a terrible punishment? The unlikely friendship between the two women proves how strong their bond is.
While many authors tend to romanticize their historical characters, by all accounts, Queen Margaret and King Malcolm’s life was one of passion and ultimately true love. Susan Fraser King tells their story with her poetic prose and beautiful period detail. With the enchanted setting of medieval Scotland, a beautiful princess and a warrior king, the author has all the ingredients for a winning story. Even better, this fictionalized account of Queen Margaret’s life with King Malcolm shines with realism.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 2, 2011