This is a book I have read again and again with increasing pleasure. The story of Macbeth as written by Shakespeare paints him as a double-dyed villain. Here we see what COULD have been the true story - an awkward and fatherless boy growing up in Orkney, Caithness and Moray under the hand of a Norwegian guardian, a Scottish mother and a Moray step-father; a gawky but intensely intelligent young Earl of some-of-Orkney, desperate to win the respect of his people and regain his stolen inheritance; and at the end an almost unwilling king of Alba, thrust to the forefront by the death - some would say murder - of his half-brother. Both were grandsons of King Malcom of Alba (Scotland) and sons of Bethoc the king's daughter - Macbeth/Thorfinn fathered by Sigurd, Earl of Orkney, and Malcom fathered by Crinan the mintmaster. The possibility that the historical Thorfinn of Orkney was the semi-fictional Macbeth of Alba is chronicled elsewhere, and Thorfinn, particularly with regard to his Mormaership of Caithness and Moray, is an indubitably historical character. The fact that he was married to the Norwegian Ingjeborg (Groa) is also historically documented, and recounted fictionally by Nigel Tranter in his knowledgeable novels featuring Malcom Canmore - Thorfinn's nephew, whom Ingjeborg married after Thorfinn/Macbeth's death.
Whatever his historical provenance, Thorfinn of Orkney, like all Dorothy Dunnett's primary characters, stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. This brilliant story of 10th century Scotland, Norway, England and all Europe, even if you don't believe that Thorfinn WAS Macbeth, teaches you so much about what it must have been like to be alive at that time, when Emma of Normandy, Canute's widow, was still the power behind the throne in Winchester, Norway held sway in most of north-east England and William the Norman was poised at the other side of the Channel to reap the seeds that Emma had sown in the fields of southern England. A tremendous novel, and like all Ms Dunnett's books, needing more than one read to grasp the full complexity of the story.
Buy it - and be enthralled!