As I read I find it interesting and helpful to notice how authors achieve different things in their writing. For example, some authors are amazing at conveying depth of emotion and some are skilled at clever dialog. Others can hang on to the pacing of a quick-moving story or manage significant plot twists without losing the reader or tipping their hand. I particularly admire authors who manage to convey the unique issues different cultures and eras deal with, without pretending that characters are modern people dropped into historical settings or other countries, and authors who can describe a setting or historical period so well that I feel like I lived there too.
In her novel Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland, Susan Fraser King does a marvelous job of incorporating setting and time period into a well-done exploration of a very interesting and complicated historical figure. Without feeling like a data dump, the descriptions of life in 11th century Scotland were wonderfully detailed. I learned so much about the weather and the food and the clothes and way things were decorated and how people traveled. The details were woven in to the story and character development, so I never felt like I was being pelted with scene descriptions, but rather that my evolving understanding of the time period helped me understand the character development and story progression. As with many writing techniques, that is harder than it looks so I appreciated it.
The title character of the book, Margaret of Scotland, is really a fascinating historical figure and King does a nice job of getting into her background and motivations. Raised in the Hungarian court, then in Saxon England, Margaret got to Scotland at a time when that country was still pretty wild and dealing with the tension between its Gaelic roots and the need to incorporate more Saxon/English ways. King showed what Scotland would have looked like to Margaret, and the challenges she would have faced in understanding her role as queen there. I like books that are set in times of transition and change, when people are questioning their identities.
The book also has an interesting undercurrent of religion, since at that time Scotland was in a mix of Celtic and Catholic religious traditions, and Margaret was incredibly devout in her Catholocism. She was apparently anorexic from her need to fast so often, and I thought King used the historical record of this to think through what that constant need for absolution and control might have indicated about Margaret’s character.
I really enjoyed Queen Hereafter and would recommend it.
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