Any one fascinated by Shakespeare’s Macbeth will love the question behind Mercedes Rochelle’s debut book: How do the sons of Banquo come to rule Scotland? The three weird sisters tell Macbeth’s companion that “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none” – a promise that sets in motion the deadly events of the famous play.
Heir To A Prophecy (Hampshire: Top Hat Books, 2014) follows a fragmented trail through Scottish history – tracing the line from Banquo’s son Fleance to King James Ist of England – with a similar mix of fact, fiction, and supernatural interference as found in the original tale. We know that Banquo is murdered on Macbeth’s orders, but that his son Fleance escapes. In Rochelle’s version he goes into exile in Wales at the court of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, where he woos and impregnates the king’s daughter, Nesta.
Nesta bears an illegitimate son called Walter, who enlists in Harold Goodwineson’s service and ends up fighting at Dunsinane and Hastings. Along the way he befriends Prince Malcolm, King Duncan’s heir to the Scottish throne. Years later, Walter settles in Malcolm’s court and is rewarded for his services, becoming the first Steward of Scotland. This legitimizes his position, and prepares the way for future descendants of the royal house of Stuart.
Rochelle’s portrayal of the three witches is particularly interesting. They appear at various points in her story to advance their original prophecy, but rather than being the weird old hags of Shakespeare’s era they are associated with the Norns of Scandinavian mythology – fates who control mankind’s destiny. But aside from this nod to the bard, Rochell wisely does not attempt to imitate one of the great literary masterpieces with a sophisticated, high-brow response. Instead she writes a plain, rollicking tale that should have broad appeal for those readers who like a fast-paced romp through history.
This novel is nicely edited and presented. The setting, however, is too broad a time-period to examine and explore the various situations in any great depth. Heir[s] To A Prophecy could well have been a whole series, with each book focusing on one central character – Fleance, Walter, and so on!
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