Queen Hereafter (A Novel of Margaret of Scotland) is Susan Fraser King's second historical fiction novel, following on the heels of her Lady MacBeth in 2008. Although there are some references to events that occurred in Lady MacBeth, Queen Hereafter is a stand-alone work of historical fiction.
Queen Hereafter commences in 1046 and covers from that date to approximately 1074. There are two point-of-views used interchangeably in the novel: Margaret of Scotland and Eva the Bard.
Exiled as a small child to Hungary, Margaret's father, is summoned to England by his uncle King Edward. Margaret's family, including her father, mother, sister and brother, travel to London only to encounter tragedy and danger when her father, Edward the Exile, suddenly drops dead within a week. Margaret's brother, Edgar, at 5 years-old, is named as king's heir. When King Edward dies, Edgar does not gain the crown. Harold Godwinson seizes the throne, but dies on the battleground against William the Conqueror.
Margaret's family separates and flee, Margaret and her sister, Cristina, to the Romsey Abby, their mother to Wilton Abbey and Edgar as William's hostage in Normandy. It is a life that Margaret seeks, one of devotion and service to God. Her desire is thwarted 3 years later when she and her sister are spirited off to be reunited with their family and sail to Scotland to request aid of the Scottish King, Malcolm Canmore. Their ship founders in the sea upon the Coast of Scotland where the people are loyal to Malcolm. Further north, the Highlanders demonstrate no such loyalty.
King Malcolm is a widower. For many months, Margaret dreads she will become his wife to seal his partnership with her brother, Edgar, to repel the hated Normans from England and Scotland and crown Edgar as King of England. Margaret is extremely pious and wishes to serve only God; not to be wife to a uncultured warrior-king. Her fears becomes reality and she weds Malcolm.
Eva the Bard (a fictional character) is granddaughter of Lady Gruadh of the Highlands and daughter of King Lulach, who was killed by Malcolm's orders. Now Malcolm demands Eva's presence at his Court to entertain his guests, a slim disguise for his true intent - to hold Eva hostage as guarantee of Lady Gruadh's good behavior. Malcolm is well aware he has enemies in the north and Lady Gruadh is influential. Lady Gruadh eventually consents to Eva travelling to Malcom's Court, but charges Eva with a mission; Eva must ferret out useful information about Malcolm's activities and report back to her grandmother.
Queen Hereafter is a story of 2 women, who have to make the best of what life has handed them. For Margaret, it's marriage to an uncouth bear of a man and, for Eva, it's banishment from her beloved highlands to the court of the man who killed her father.
Margaret's goals are to reform the Celtic church of Scotland to the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, institute almsgiving, found monasteries, tame her brutish husband into a cultured man (she eventually finds contentment with her marriage and bears 8 children) and spend infinite hours on her knees praying in the hopes of a expiating a sin from her childhood. She practices asceticism to the extreme.
Eva's ambition is to return home to Northern Scotland, the sooner the better. As she becomes more intimate with Margaret, she finds herself in a loyalty dilemma. She attempts to resolve this problem with unfortunate results.
I enjoyed Eva's point-of-view best as she seemed more flesh and bones than Margaret. Margaret's portrayal of extreme piety began to feel somewhat tired and her character a bit cardboard-like. Margaret did not come across as the imperfect human being we all are, except for her own self-imposed conception of her sins. Not being a saint myself, I'm not sure exactly of a saint's thought process, but I do know many sinners became saints. There was nothing in Margaret's character that helped me make a connection with her. I was disappointed as I'd hoped to gain more insight into Margaret.
Overall, I found this a good read but, as mentioned above, had difficulties envisioning Margaret as a "real" person.