Book Review of ‘Lady Macbethad’ by Isabelle Schuler

Power. History. Love. Hate. Vengeance.

She will be Queen. Whatever it takes…

Daughter of an ousted king, descendant of ancient druids, as a child it is prophesied that one day Gruoch will be queen of Alba.

When she is betrothed to Duncan, heir elect, this appears to confirm the prophecy. She leaves behind her home, her family and her close friend Macbethad, and travels to the royal seat at Scone to embrace her new position.

But nothing is as Gruoch anticipates. Duncan’s court is filled with sly words and unfriendly faces, women desperate to usurp her position, and others whose motives are shrouded in mystery. As her coronation approaches, a deadly turn of events forces Gruoch to flee Duncan and the capital, finding herself alone, vulnerable and at the mercy of an old enemy. Her hope of becoming Queen all but lost, Gruoch does what she must to survive, vowing that one day she will fulfil her destiny and take up the future owed to her. Whatever it may take.

My Review

As an English teacher, I’ve read Macbeth so many times – I’ve delivered lessons about the plot, characters and themes, helped pupils to write essays, and can probably recall more quotations than is really healthy. One thing that I’ve never done is to question the main characters’ back stories.

I remember finding a book of published essays about Shakespeare’s characters when I was studying English Literature at University, and finding a whole dissertation devoted to the question of how many children Lady Macbeth actually had. The author had forensically picked apart every last ‘clue’ in Shakespeare’s play, in order to work out just how many babes she had ‘given suck’ to and indeed whether she had been violent towards any of them. No need!

Lady Macbeth was not simply a product of the bard’s imagination but a real person who lived in medieval Scotland. The most dramatic incident in her life, her husband’s murder of a king, has indeed been recreated on stage for the past 450 years, with so many famous actors treading the boards in Lady Macbeth’s shoes. So is there any point in this latest novel? Is there really any story left to tell?

‘Lady Macbethad’ is an imaginative exploration of the protagonist’s backstory in which we discover her motivations and the events that shaped her ambitions. Painfully researched and with plenty of ‘Easter eggs’ for those who know Shakespeare’s play well, I found it to be a thought-provoking feminist recentering of the famous tale. Personally, I really enjoyed the depiction of Gruoch’s Pict ancestry and its beliefs (something that I knew little about) as well as her desperation to protect her son which led to the development of her infamous ruthless and ambitious streak.

Fans of Shakespeare are bound to enjoy this book, but I’d also recommend it as an interesting read for those who are less familiar with the play – as a stand-alone novel, it is a fine piece of historical fiction, so don’t be put off if you can’t recite huge chunks of the play as your party piece. I look forward to seeing what else Isabelle Schuler will write – this is certainly a strong start!

Thank you to NetGalley UK, Bloomsbury Publishing and Isabelle Schuler for this ARC in return for my honest review.

‘Lady Macbethad’ is due to be published on 2nd March 2023.

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