Sunday, June 9, 2024

Queen Macbeth - Val McDermid

It's been a long couple of weeks, but it's time to look forward again and get organised. I've read and am reading some remarkable things, and whilst I'm trying not to be over hopeful I'm keeping everything crossed for an election that brings a certain amount of change with it. 

I think Val McDermid's Queen Macbeth is the 5th book in Polygon's Darkland tales series (I've checked, it is), and what an excellent series it's turning into, even if not all the books are for everyone. I didn't dislike Alan Warner's 'Nothing Left to Fear From Hell' but I doubt I'll revisit it. Equally, I still feel a little nagging guilt that Ginny Jones disliked Columba's Bones which will probably be one of my best books of the year. But dissent and discussion are a good thing and hopefully, she will forgive me/still more or less trust my judgment. 

Lady Macbeth is having quite a moment - there are 3 reasonably high profile feminist retellings of her story around at the moment. This book, Ava Reid's 'Lady Macbeth', and Isabelle Schuler's Lady MacBethad. And there is of course Shakespeare's play overshadowing all of them. Mcdermid departs quite quickly from Shakespeare's version of Gruoch, though she does keep the witches and I like the way she does it. 

This version relies more on a history that doesn't need to flatter a Stuart king and interestingly she has Gruoch betray her first husband to conceive her child with Macbeth himself. It's maybe another swipe at Shakespeare who conspicuously makes his Lord Macbeth incapable of fathering a child (last time I saw the play this seemed a key point in it to me). 

In this version, Gruoch and her closest companions have been in exile after the apparent loss of Macbeth in battle, and now the loss of her son before he could secure the Scottish crown. This Macbeth and his Lady have ruled the country well for some years, they have friends and loyal subjects as well as political enemies, but the tide has turned on them. Gruoch is a danger to Malcolm, the next man to claim the kingdom - there's enough support for her that she might prove a rallying point. We meet them as they're about to be discovered and be forced to flee.

What follows is a tense journey full of danger and heartbreaking loss set beside Gruoch's memories of his this all came to be. There's an unexpected twist at the end and a clever resolution - and as definitely the shortest of the 3 Lady Macbeth's around at the moment is a very good place to start with her. MacDermid's take is thought provoking and smart. If the Darkland series excels at one thing (it excels at a few) it's in getting a lot into a novella. This Gruoch is compellingly human and less morally grey than some depictions, less supernatural too - though again, the way prophecy is handled here is interesting. It's fun to see MacDermid writing ina  different genre too. 


  1. I have never read Val McDermid, but I need a new series and this one sounds interesting. Thanks!

  2. I quite enjoyed McDermid's take on Northanger Abbey some time ago, although it was done as a frothy YA novel. It must be fun to take on different genres occasionally. Glad she carries this one off.