by Lisa Klein
First sentence: “The nameless baby lay on the cold ground, wrapped in a woolen cloth.”
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Review copy sent to me by the publisher.
The one thought that kept running through my mind while reading this was: Lisa Klein is to Shakespeare as Marion Zimmer Bradley is to King Arthur. This book is not as complex or involved as Mists of Avalon, but it has the same proto-feminist/mystical feel. That, and Klein takes the Shakespeare play (Macbeth, if you didn’t already figure it out), and weaves a story through it that takes the original in new and fascinating directions.
Albia has grown up without a knowledge of her father. She believes her mother is one of three strange sisters, ones that can fortell the future, or so others believe. She’s happy in her life: taking the sheep out to pasture, playing in Wychelm Wood. Then, one day, Macbeth comes to the Wyrd sisters, seeking news of his future. It is then that Albia becomes entangled in Macbeth’s fate, both because she is his daughter, and because she is gifted with the Sight. As she fights against her fate, and eventually works to change it, she learns to harness her power — both her physical power as well as the Sight — and become the woman she and Scotland need her to be.
It sounds mystical, and in many ways it is. But, like Mists of Avalon, it’s not so much a hocus–pocus kind of magic as it is that natural, earth-and-sky driven, Druidic magic. Albia fights the gift at first, as she fights her own heritage. Then again, the Macbeth Klein has created is worth fighting against. He’s more than ambitious, he’s power-hungry and ruthless. He’s so superstitious that he’d kill his own daughter when she was an infant — that’s how Albia ended up with the Wyrd sisters in the first place — because she wasn’t the son the oracle had prophesied. He holds no remorse; he’s full of lust and darkness, and deserved to die. Lady Macbeth is only slightly better; she gives herself over to Macbeth because she knows no other way, and the motivations Klein gives her for encouraging Macbeth in his road to destruction evolve out of her feeling cornered in her life. In fact, Klein gives us an interesting dichotomy with her women characters: Lady Macbeth is what one would think is very traditional, very husband-bound; while Albia, on the other hand, is very modern and feminist, choosing her own path without being bound by men’s expectations.
I think this book could also bring up the question of fanfiction: is what Klein is doing a form of fan fiction? Possibly. (Then again, it could also be a form of historical fiction.) Klein takes the original Shakespeare play and works it in its own direction. True, if you are familiar with the play, you will recognize it wandering in and out of chapters. But, on the other hand, Albia is her own character almost wholly separate from the original play. And while she interacts with characters from the play, their story is not wholly hers.
Which makes this something more.