Title: Queen Hereafter
Author: Susan Fraser King
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Shipwrecked on the Scottish coast, a young Saxon princess and her family—including the outlawed Edgar of England—ask sanctuary of the warrior-king Malcolm Canmore, who shrewdly sees the political advantage. He promises to aid Edgar and the Saxon cause in return for the hand of Edgar’s sister, Margaret, in marriage.
A foreign queen in a strange land, Margaret adapts to life among the barbarian Scots, bears princes, and shapes the fierce warrior Malcolm into a sophisticated ruler. Yet even as the king and queen build a passionate and tempestuous partnership, the Scots distrust her. When her husband brings Eva, a Celtic bard, to court as a hostage for the good behavior of the formidable Lady Macbeth, Margaret expects trouble. Instead, an unlikely friendship grows between the queen and her bard, though one has a wild Celtic nature and the other follows the demanding path of obligation.
Torn between old and new loyalties, Eva is bound by a vow to betray the king and his Saxon queen. Soon imprisoned and charged with witchcraft and treason, Eva learns that Queen Margaret—counseled by the furious king and his powerful priests—will decide her fate and that of her kinswoman Lady Macbeth. But can the proud queen forgive such deep treachery?”
Thoughts: Good historical fiction brings back to life the historical figures they portray. Queen Hereafter definitely qualifies as good historical fiction, as Ms. Fraser King brings Queen Margaret to life in this beautifully written tale of her life during the first few years of her reign. Crystal clear descriptions and an attention to detail that in no way detracts from the story, the reader becomes immersed into life in eleventh century Scotland. One can clearly visualize life in the castle, trips overland, and the minutiae of castle living, which only heightens the enjoyment of the story.
Margaret is quite the character. Strong-willed, intelligent and yet extremely pious, the reader comes to understand her fears and doubts. Her exacting standards are understandable and yet add a level of realism to this revered saint. She is not as perfect as historians may lead one to believe, and Ms. Fraser King has no problems showcasing this. If anything, Margaret becomes human again under Ms. Fraser King’s pen.
The plot involving Eva was a nice addition but rather unnecessary to the story. It does more to highlight the messy political situation that was to be the heart of English/Scottish relations for centuries to come than further along Margaret’s story. If anything, Queen Hereafter shines more as a history lesson than as an actual novel. This becomes especially true when one reads the Author’s Note about how well-documented Queen Margaret’s life was and how little Ms. Fraser King had to imagine.
Queen Hereafter is a welcome addition to the historical fiction genre, as it moves away from Tudor history and focuses on even earlier English/Scottish relations. The accuracy and care Ms. Fraser King uses to paint a picture of early Scottish royal life enhances an already charming story, one that is fodder for fairy tales. The growing love between Margaret and Malcolm is endearing, as is their battle of wills. Fun and funny, Queen Hereafter is a treat for any historical fiction lover.