Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth

by Susan Fraser King


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307341754
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 04/07/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 188,589
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

With graduate degrees in art and art history, former college lecturer Susan Fraser King is the author of several bestselling novels praised for lyrical style and historical accuracy. Raised in upstate New York and a frequent visitor to Scotland, she lives in Maryland with her family.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Anno Domini 1025

Scarce nine the first time I was stolen away, I remember a wild and unthinking fright as I was snatched from my pony's back and dragged into the arms of one of the men who rode toward my father's escort party. We were heading north to watch our kinsman, King Malcolm, second of the name, hold an autumnal court on the moot hill at Scone. Proud of my shaggy garron and painted saddle, I insisted on riding alone in the length between my father, older brother Farquhar, and several of their retainers. Then horsemen emerged from a fringe of trees and came straight for us. As men shouted and horses reared, a warrior reached out and plucked me up like a poppet.

The memories of that day are vivid but disjointed. His furs smelled rancid and smoky; his whiskered chin was broad from my view beneath, trapped before him in the saddle; his fingers on the reins were grimy and powerful. I can recall the russet brown of his cloak, but I do not recall his name. I know it was never spoken in my hearing for years afterward.

Kicking, shrieking, twisting like an eel in the arms of that stranger, I managed to tear his dagger from his belt, slicing my thumb like a sausage. With no idea how to handle the thing, I meant to defend myself. A fierce urge insisted upon it.

He snatched the dagger back, but next I tore the large round brooch from his cloak, shredding the wool, and whipped it upward to jab it into his cheek. That slowed him. Swearing, he released me for an instant, and I lurched from the saddle, falling and breaking my arm in my thud to cold earth. Rolling by accident more than intent, I narrowly missed the forelegs of a horse as my kinsmen thundered past me.

Shouting then, and steel and iron clashed, and within minutes of yanking me from my pretty saddle, the man was dead, and two of his guard with him. My father and the others took them down with swift and ugly certainty.

Huddled beside the road on the frosted earth, I watched, arm aching, heart slamming, while men fought and died. Until then, I had never seen a skirmish, nor so much blood. I had heard steel ring against steel in the practice yard of our fortress in Fife, but I had never seen blade sink into flesh, nor heard the soft, surprised gasp as the soul abandons the body without warning. Since then, I have heard it too often.

I own that cloak pin still, good bronze and smooth jet, and I will never wear it. In the little casket with my jewels, its dusky gleam reminds me to stay strong and wary.

My brother, Farquhar, died of the wounds he took in my defense. I saw the angled sprawl of his body, though my father's men shielded me from the full sight. I remember, too, the taste of my salt tears, and my father's roar of grief echoing in the chill air.

Farquhar left a small son, Malcolm, and a pale wife with a grieving spirit, who soon returned to her Lowland family, leaving Malcolm to foster with Bodhe. My father found solace in the boy's presence, and he swore to discover who had plotted the attack that had nearly taken his daughter and had killed his son.

Through subtle inquiries, Bodhe learned that the men were sent by Crinan, the lay abbot of Dunkeld as well as mormaer--the Celtic equivalent to Saxon earl or Norse jarl--of Atholl. He was married to the king's eldest daughter. My father already loathed him as an arrogant fool, and now outright hated him. At the king's next judgment court, Bodhe accused Crinan of Atholl of plotting to abduct me to marry Crinan's son Duncan, a young warrior, and of cruelly killing Farquhar mac Bodhe. Denying all, Crinan claimed that Bodhe attacked his men without provocation, thereby inviting Farquhar's death himself.

The guilty party would have to pay cro, a customary penalty in recompense, a certain amount of livestock or other goods according to rank. While they awaited the king's decision, tensions were such that Bodhe and Crinan nearly came to blows, but for the king's housecarls who stood between them.

Justice stumbled on barren ground that day, for my father paid, as a prince, many cows each for Crinan's deceased men, some to their families and some to the king. Crinan basked in smug victory, keeping the fat coffers of his church at Dunkeld, and the continued favor of his royal father-in-law. The king, old Malcolm, showed no loyalty toward Bodhe and Farquhar, his own blood kin. My father never forgot it. Added to past offenses, the whole was fuel for fire.

Early on I learned why we despised Malcolm's faction of our kinsmen. Our kin group had endured the deaths of others, including Bodhe's father, King Kenneth, the third of the name. He had been murdered by then-young Malcolm, called the Destroyer, who took his cousin's throne.

My blood had even more merit once Bodhe had no other heir. Because I am descended in a direct line from Celtic kings, the purest royal blood courses through me and blushes my skin. I could prick a finger and it would be gold to some.

I am Gruadh inghean Bodhe mac Cinead mhic Dubh--daughter of Bodhe son of Kenneth son of Duff. My grandfathers going back were kings of Scots, and I was born a princess of the house of Clan Gabhran that boasts Kenneth mac Alpin, the first king of Scots and Picts together. The line reaches back to the Picts who were native to this land, and the Scotti who came over from Ireland to settle as the Dalriadans in Argyll. We are proud of our heritage, and know the old names by heart: son of, son of.

My lineage combines the ancient royal branches of Scotland through my father, and through my mother, the proud line of the high kings of Ireland back to Niall of the Nine Hostages and beyond. Our old tree has many branches, some warring and some not, and divides along two main trunks, Clan Gabhran and Clan Loarne, descended from a single king, ages past.

Because a man could claim the throne of Scotland by marrying me, I was not safe. Nor were my kinsmen, come to that: if they were killed, one after another, our line would be eliminated at its heart, making room for others' ambitions. Such is the way of things when one's heritage is ancient, pure, and royal.

Little good did the blood of ancients do me. I was like a lark spiraling upward, unaware of the hawks above judging time and distance to the prize.

The second time I was snatched off, I was walking the hills with my cousin Bethoc and Aella, my Saxon maidservant. I was a fortnight past thirteen, having been born in the last of July after the Feast of the Seven Sleepers. We were plucking wildflowers for Bethoc's mother, Mairi, a healer. She had sent us to search out club moss, yarrow, and heather--including the rare white sort if we found it--and we were dropping blossoms into the large basket that Aella lugged along. Finding club moss, we were careful to pick it with our right hands tucked through our left sleeves, so as not to taint the plant's healing power.

The summer sun was warm that day, and I was glad to be dressed simply in a tunic gown of lightweight blue-gray wool, a gauzy shift beneath, and plain leather shoes. Earlier my nurse, Maeve, had braided my hair out of the way into one fat braid, looping and securing it with a thong. Bethoc remarked that my hair's sheen, like bronze, looked like a fire beacon in sunlight, so that Maeve, who had kept close watch over me since my mother's death two years before, could see me from the walls of Abernethy, and be content in my whereabouts.

"Once I marry I will cover my head with a veil," I replied. "And Maeve will not be able to spot me when I go searching for heather and lavender."

"Those flowers, my mother says, will keep spies away," Bethoc said. "Maeve, too." We all laughed. My cousin Bethoc, daughter to my father's cousin and Fife born, knew our Celtic customs well. Aella was of Saxon birth, stolen away as a small girl and enslaved by the Irish, then rescued by Bodhe, who bought her in a Dublin market. She did not know Scottish traditions so well and was wary of them. But she knew the Saxon tongue and taught that to us, as we taught her the Gaelic.

Below the hills where we walked, men were busy far out in the golden spread of fields, taking in the hay; that morning, women had sained their cattle, putting a spell of protection around them with juniper smoke and tying fresh juniper to their tails. The Gaels have a sian, as is properly said, for every situation and every creature. No one had sained us that day as we went into the hills to search for blossoms among turf and rock.

Talking and laughing, not looking about as we should, we ran ahead and left my guard, Dugal, well behind. Bethoc, whose angelic fair-haired looks hid a talent for mischief, began a game of guessing how long it might take lazy, good-natured Dugal to catch up to us, following the torch of my hair in the sunlight.

Then men appeared over the rim of the hill. My constant guard was not with them. His head, however, was.

Bethoc screamed, Aella dropped the basket, and I stood transfixed in horror. Two more men surged out from behind a cluster of boulders and then we ran, but my friends were thrown roughly aside. One assailant grabbed me up while I dragged and struggled. Another took my feet, and we went over the hill with me slung between them like a whipping hammock.

Other men met us, all of them strangers to me. Someone bound me with ropes and swathed me in a blanket--a filthy thing, nipping with fleas--and put me on a horse to ride in front of a silent warrior. Over hours and near a day, I was moved from the horse to a cart that rumbled over rough terrain, and finally to a boat, gliding on lapping water. When the blanket was removed, night had descended, the air fresh and sea-damp. The men dipped oars over a distance through mist, and no one spoke to me. Among them I heard more Norse than Gaelic, and heard them speak of boats, oars, and the sea. Then I knew them for Vikings: no Gael would name such things directly while on the water. I hoped the Norsemen would invite bad luck to themselves so that I could escape, but we reached shore safely.

Recalcitrant by nature, I refused to walk, but going limp earned me nothing. Thrown over a shoulder, I was carried. In all that time, I was not mistreated, but for being dragged about and frightened. They gave me a hard oatcake to eat and swallows of ale from a hide flask.

"I am a princess," I told them. "And Bodhe mac Kenneth mac Duff will come after you and kill you." Someone laughed.

We entered a long hall, larger even than my father's hall at Abernethy, though not near so fine. This compound was more like a farm than a fortress. The house had a sunken floor that ran the center length of the smoky, firelit room. Raised platforms along the walls to either side held benches where people sat eating and talking. Beds were fitted against the walls behind curtains, and in the shadows I saw men and women embracing in ways they might better have done in private. Other than guarded and curious glances, I was ignored by those present as my captors took me toward a far corner.

Someone tied my hands and feet with ropes and left me on a narrow bed behind a red curtain. Firelight spilled through the fabric, reddening all, including my temper. My bed niche was at the end of the room nearest the attached animal byre, and I heard the lowing of cows and the bleating of goats. Smelled them too, the odor leaking through cracks between the wall planking. My father's hillfort was a clean place, with a hall perched high on a center mound and separate buildings for animals, a byre for the cows, a stable for the horses, a smaller building for our hawks and falcons. We did not dwell with the beasts.

After a while, an elderly woman pushed aside the curtain to hold a wooden cup to my lips, grumbling something in Norse. I drank thirstily of some foamy dark ale, and then she went away.

Hands and feet tied, I lay on my back and kicked at the curtain and the wall, shouting and making noise deliberately. No one rushed to my aid. I whispered a charm for angelic protection: "Mhiceil nam buadh, bi fein mi ro chul"--Michael the victorious, be at my back. Finally I slept, curled and weepy, stirring only when the old woman returned.

She glared and grumbled as before, but brought food in clean wooden dishes. Freeing my hands and feet, she snarled a warning that was clear in any language, and left me a bucket in which to piss before yanking the red curtain shut.

The drink tasted of apples and spice, the porridge was soggy with onions, and I did not like the fish, wrapped in greasy parchment, but I ate a little. I glanced about in the reddish darkness of my enclosure wondering if I dared run while my limbs were free.

But the house was filled with Vikings, and I was not a fool. When the footsteps returned, I expected to see the old woman.

This time a man entered the sleeping space, long haired and bearded, broad and frightening in leather and furs. I backed into a corner as he sat on the straw-filled mattress and reached toward me. He smelled strongly of ale and wood smoke, and he smiled and touched my cheek gently. I stared at his braided brown hair, as fine and glossy as a girl's, his ruddy beard braided into tips. Then he traced his fingers down over my chest. Horrified, I bucked like a colt. He grabbed my arm, and at the same time, fumbled under his tunic.

Though I tried to yank my arm back, he threw himself on me. His hands shoved at my garments, dragging them upward, terrifying me. The texture of sound beyond the curtain--voices, laughter, music--was loud. I shrieked but no one came to my aid, and my cries were muffled by the big man's shoulder smothering my face as I struggled against his hands.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Lady Macbeth 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Every now and then a historical novel comes along that has everything fans of the genre are looking for: Rich, jump-off-the-page characterizations, well-researched, makes learning about the time period fascinating, so suspenseful that you can't put it down, and written in first person so captivating that you're drawn into it on page one. Susan Fraser King's Lady Macbeth is such a book. She just shot to the top of my list of favorite historical fiction writers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Forever etched in memory as a villain by Shakespeare¿s play, the wife of the Scots King Macbeth is redeemed by Susan Fraser King¿s portrayal in Lady Macbeth. The author breathes new life into the character of Lady Gruadh, nicknamed Rue in her childhood and relies heavily on historical details to flesh out the life of one of Scotland¿s most enigmatic and maligned queens. From Gruadh¿s tragic beginnings, with the deaths of her siblings and mother, to her ill-fated first marriage, her ties to the Scottish crown weigh heavily upon her. Treachery abounds in the land as Vikings from the north, Saxons from the south and other Scottish lords set their sights on the crown. Union with the chieftain Gilcomgan of Moray places Gruadh at the center of conflict between her husband and Macbeth, who will do anything to regain his ancestral home at Moray. When Gilcomgan dies tragically in a fire, Gruadh marries Macbeth, despite knowing in her heart that he made her a widow and left her newborn son Lulach fatherless. She recognizes Macbeth¿s true ambitions and despises him, but in time, Gruadh comes to understand her role in his life and in Scottish history. Through further tragedy and betrayal, Gruadh and Macbeth scale the heights of power in their quest to unite Scotland against its enemies. I highly recommend Lady Macbeth to readers of historical fiction, lovers of Scottish history and those who want to be transported on an engrossing journey to the past. Ms. King truly brings to life a time where kings and queens shaped the destiny of their countries through intrigue and skilled maneuvering. The historical detail is rich, with well-known figures interspersed among a myriad of characters. In her portrayal of Lady Gruadh, King strips away the myths and legends surrounding a woman much maligned by history to reveal a queen who was foremost, a dutiful mother and a true partner to her husband.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Susan King's work has never been better. I am glad to see this novel receive the attention that it deserves. King has obviously done extensive research into real historical documents, and her interest in Celtic lore exudes from the book's pages. While Lady Macbeth's character has been largely stereotyped in the last few centuries, King provides a refreshing and informative take on this 'villainess.' The depth of the character and the development of Macbeth actually make her a strong and sympathetic individual. Moreover, she has a wonderful sense of humor, which was an unexpected treat in the novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The overly harsh review sounds like it was written by a bitter, pretentious wannabe author. This was an excellent and entertaining story. I greatly enjoyed it. The characters are likeable and believable although I would've liked them to have more depth. The plot moved along very well and it is a page turner. The only thing that I did not enjoy was that the timeline jumps forward rather abruptly two or three times toward the end when it flowed more smoothly for the first 3/4 of the book. A lot more happened in the last 3/4 but it seemed rushed through. Overall it was a great book.
AngieJG More than 1 year ago
I liked this book very much. I felt I learned more of the real MacBeth than the one depicted in Shakespeare. This book, however, is not about the man so much, as the wife. The author states at the end of the novel that there is very little information on Lady MacBeth, so much of the story is fictional. The story inspired me to learn more about the real MacBeth. As the far as the novel goes, I wish that the author spent some time developing MacBeth's character. After all, it is he who helps shape the life of Lady MacBeth. I felt there was a lot of one sentence utterances from the man, and he fell flat. Lady M, however, is painted as a strong,  yet tragic figure. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the novel that induced me to read more Historical Fiction! It is VERY interesting and fast-paced, with numerous twists and problemz that arise in the plot periodically throughout the novel. Definitly read if you are fond of the lives of kings and queens, marriage, warriors and action, and an overall WONDERFUL display of Historical Fiction
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am quite familar with Shakespeare's so called 'histories' even though he took great liberties in his fictionalizations of historical facts, choosing instead to manipulate them into situations more befitting his personal intepretations. This novel goes a long way in dispelling many of these falsehoods manipulatedinto making MacBeth a villian who murdered his king in cold blood. Oops, Shakespeare neglected to mention the man on the throne was NOT the rightful ruler. A refreshing read that finally sheds light on factual accounts of what really occured in Scotland at that time. Great book.
BookAddictDiary on LibraryThing 27 days ago
After reading Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King, I wasn't that excited about her. I thought it was a decent novel, but I wasn't exactly going to run out and buy her next book right there. In fact, I never would have picked up Lady Macbeth if I hadn't found it on super clearance at Half Price Books during their 20 percent off everything sale (so, I got it for virtually no money). And it's been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, because I kept passing it up for something of greater interest. Most just because I was sick of seeing it on my bookshelf, I thought it was finally time to read it. It's not like it would hurt or anything.While Lady Macbeth wasn't an amazing book, it was certainly much better than my expectations. I read through the entire book without any problems and even found that Lady Macbeth was a fascinating and strong character that I wanted to know more about. I honestly thought it was even stronger than King's follow up novel, Queen Hereafter.Lady Macbeth explores the story of the real Lady Macbeth. Not the Shakespeare one -but the one who lived in ancient times, and had royal blood. Blood so dangerous that men would kidnap her for marriage, just to use her blood ties to make a claim to the Scottish throne. After surviving a number of kidnap attempts, she becomes a fighter. But after her first marriage left her a pregnant widow, she was forced to marry her husband's murderer, the famous Macbeth, and must find a way to make a new life with him.Lady Macbeth's character is the centerpiece of this novel. Told in her strong voice, the character feels real and powerful, as well as constant throughout the novel. An honest narrator, it's easy for readers to become invested in her and her struggle and want to see her succeed -no matter the consequences. Unfortunately, this has made many of the other characters feel weaker, and, in some cases, they completely disappeared in their own scenes in favor of our willful narrator. While I wasn't completely in love with this book, it was an interesting and unexpected read about a little-known woman and her unique life.
Sarij on LibraryThing 27 days ago
How does one start a review of a book as well written and engaging as Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King? Should I start by telling the story of my high school senior English teacher who acted out the Shakespeare play Macbeth, thus starting my long obsession with the queen who desperately tries to wash blood from her hands or should I start by saying I am usually disappointed by historical fiction? How about a little of both.During my senior year we were blessed with an English teacher who secretly wanted to act. When it came time to read Shakespeare Mr. Fraser (no relation to the author) taught us how to enjoy the bard¿s prose by getting on his desk as he acted out the play. Watching Mr. Fraser act out a one man sword fight is a cherished memory I hope to always keep. Lady Macbeth¿s anguish over the death of King Duncan followed me through my life. I vowed I would never do something that would cause lifelong regret or sorrow. Many times in my 20s I would stop myself from doing something stupid by asking if this action would cause me to constantly want to wash it from my soul. Lady Macbeth kept me from causing myself mental scars. I never gave the person Lady Macbeth much thought, it was what she represented that stood out for me. To be honest I did not know she was a real person, I thought she and Macbeth were fictional characters or at least composites made up by Shakespeare. As I started to seriously study Irish and English medieval history I wanted to complement my studies with historical fiction. As a lifelong reader I assumed I would fall in love with this genre, but sadly I am a critic of it. Oh I have my favorites; Peter Ellis¿s Brother Cadfael, and Bernard Knight¿s John Crowner, but more often than not I find issue with authors who are either so busy adding description the plot is ignored or the author feels no need to describe the times in which the book is set. King weaves a tight tapestry of both plot and character. King researched both Scotland and the Macbeths; her book shows just how well she accomplished this. Lady Macbeth is the story of the last Celtic King and Queen of the Scots and the story of 11th century Scotland itself. Macbeth¿s story is told as history, not as a tragedy; though I became so engrossed in their lives that the tragedy came because I knew there was only one ending to their story. The death of Macbeth was as upsetting to me as it was to Lady Macbeth as she talked of his last heroic effort to save Scotland from English rule. Other reviewers have mentioned how the voice of the Scottish queen burns off the page, yet it bares repeating. King has written a character so life like, it is as if she and King spent many long hours together. If you appreciate strong female characters who are noble in the face of adversary and are strong when necessary then you will really appreciate this book. When Macbeth kills Gruadh¿s husband and takes her as his wife the book could have turned into the typical story of a man and women who dislike each other but somehow come to adore each other. King manages to write their story as it probably did happen, not how modern readers come to expect. As Gruadha rages over what has happened those around her accept it as a matter of fact. The people around her accept that Gruadha¿s husband was an inept lord and that Macbeth was the better choice. Gruadha accepts her fate and the fate of her people because this was the norm. She and Macbeth slowly trust and respect each other. Though the reader is never privy to their private life, you do get the sense that these two people do love each other. As the end of the book nears it becomes harder and hard for Lady Macbeth to finish the tale as it means reliving the death of her husband. Forget what you learned about Macbeth from Shakespeare; read this book for the characters and human drama. Read the book because it is one of those rare books that remind us readers why we spend so much time curled around our couches. I have to warn
willowwaw on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Great book! I was hooked from the very beginning! I would recommend it to anyone who loves a great historical fiction. Very amazing! One of my favorites!
erinclark on LibraryThing 27 days ago
OK, this is one I should have purchased in Hardcover rather than an audio book. The narrator was very good -with a great Scottish accent but I sometimes found my mind wandering when she began to speak too quickly. Great story though, full of adventure, betrayal, and all that Scottish blood lust stuff. Makes me proud to be a Scot!
hoxierice on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I enjoyed the first part, and then I got distracted by life. I never really got back to into the book, which I guess says something about it. But I am glad that I read it, Historical fiction is a new genre for me and because of this book I will read more.
juleecm1 More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this book very much. Am familiar with the opera and studied the role (of Lady Macbeth), but she never made much sense to me. What drove her? There was no real backstory, and playing her as a bloodthirsty woman-behind-the-man was not satisfying. Enter Susan Fraser's Lady Macbeth. What a revelation! Now there is both an historical and social context for Lady Macbeth's actions. First of all, she wasn't a bloodthirsty, mentally unstable wack job, secondly, her husband was really the ambitious one (which doesn't come across in the opera -- in the opera he is a weak puppet, manipulated by Lady Macbeth). While we can't know if this story is accurate, at least it gives a very interesting idea of how Lady Macbeth may have grown up, why she was a part of history, and the socio-political forces that may have shaped her world. And guess what? Macbeth reigned for 17 years IN PEACE, meaning both lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself were clearly not the horrific, grasping, unhinged people portrayed in the opera. As a side note, I have been watching a series on the Celts (BBC - Amazon Prime) that beautifully complements Susan Fraser's book. If you are interested in more information about Celtic customs, the way they waged war, their beautiful metal work, etc., watch this series. If I were performing Lady Macbeth today, this series, along w/ Ms. Fraser's book, would be required viewing/reading.
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For such an interesting setting and genuinely good research, the actual writing is PAINFULLY poor. The prose is scant and hardly engaging, the imagery dry as toast, the language dull, the metaphors extraordinarily cliche... and, worst of all, the characterization is *laughably* poor. Lady Macbeth is written as a petulant, overly idealized, contrived "tomboy princess" without a bit of realistic, humanizing flesh upon her. I quickly began to loathe the stale, unimaginative pettiness with which the author styled her voice. It is not that she is an irritating personality -- she simply has no original character. This book reads like a teenager's trite and floundering attempt at writing a strong female character; King regulates Lady Macbeth to a trite, teeth-gritting, romantic comedy glimmer of what she otherwise might have been. What a shame, as it is evident that considerable (and thorough) study went in to this poor attempt to tell what should have been a fascinating and personal story. Finishing this book quickly became agonizing. Not recommended for anyone over the age of 16, or anyone who enjoys wholesome characterization.
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