by Mary Anne Yarde
“I’ve come to help avenge Banquo’s death.” Malcolm smiled sadly. “Then you shall not leave my side until it is done.”
Walter knew nothing of his ancestry, only that he was illegitimate and his grandfather, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, had cast out his daughter, Walter’s mother, Nesta, and murdered Fleance, Walter’s father. Walter knew nothing of his father’s past until he was visited by three mysterious old women, who spoke of prophecy and destinies and other such dangerous things.
Walter has two choices. He could ignore the old hags and live the life he wanted. Or, he could take heed of their warning and follow the path they laid out before him and become The First Stuart of Scotland.
From a desperate escape from assassins to the crowning of the rightful King of Scotland, Heir to a Prophecy by Mercedes Rochelle is the utterly compelling story of how Banquo’s grandson paved the way for a generation of kings.
Those who have read Shakespeare’s infamous Scottish play will be familiar with brave and valiant Banquo, who like Macbeth failed to understand the cost of the weird women’s prophecy, nor was he prepared for the ugly realisation that if he were indeed the father of kings then Macbeth, his dearest friend, would become a dagger hidden in the shadows of the night. *”Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly,” Banquo cried if you recall, for the instruments of darkness so often tell the truth, and thus Banquo dies. Rochelle has picked up the story from that remarkable play and has taken her readers with good Fleance as he flees for his life. But how did Banquo’s son go on to father the Stuart dynasty? In this remarkable work of Historical Fiction, Rochelle has presented her readers with a plausible answer but without losing the essence, the superstition and the mythical element that is so prevalent in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Rochelle has stuck with tradition and allowed the Three Witches to control the narrative and, of course, toy with the protagonists. By doing this, Rochelle has not only captured the very essence of Shakespeare’s play, but she has given us a story that is rich and vibrant and utterly compelling from start to finish. Heir to a Prophecy is the type of book that one will forego sleep to finish, and it is also one that would be next to impossible to forget.
Although Heir to a Prophecy opens with Banquo’s death and Fleance’s subsequent flight to Wales, it is Fleance’s son, Walter, whose story this really is. Born a bastard, Walter is on first encounter, seemingly inconsequential. He comes from nothing. He is nobody. His mother, Princess Nesta, daughter of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, had been thrown unceremoniously from Court and has been disowned by her family because of her love affair with Fleance. With a tremendous strength of spirit and a dogged determined to battle on, Nesta makes the best of a bad situation. I adored Nesta. She has such capacity for love and is yet used so cruelly by her father. His disappointment, his anger, leaves no room for reason. Lost and alone, without her lover, Nesta is determined to bring up her child the best way she can. How can you not admire such a character for that?
Walter is a troubled youth. He knows nothing of his father’s heritage until the night he encounters the same three women who had visited his grandfather and King Macbeth in a heath near Forres. Unlike, Macbeth, Walter does not want to hear the weird women’s prophecy, nor does he want to heed it, although he has sense enough to fear it. We, lucky readers, witness Walter’s struggle with who he is and what he has seen. We watch him become a temperamental youth to a knight of honour. We follow him in battle and love. We watch him become the man he was destined to be. I thought Rochelle really nailed Walter’s characterisation. He isn’t this elevated man of goodness who his grandfather is portrayed as being. Walter makes terrible mistakes and conscientious decisions which have consequences — consequences that he is willing to answer. Walter is an incredibly complex character who has many layers which makes him endlessly fascinating. He is a fantastic protagonist who drives this story forward. It was an absolute pleasure, nay privilege, to read his story.
As one would expect from this time, there are, along with Walter, a host of historical characters. From Malcolm III Canmore: King of Scotland to the bastard Norman, William the Conqueror. All of these historical characters bring something unique to the narrative. Malcolm was a character who I liked very much, whereas William — he certainly knew how to plan a battle. Rochelle pens historical figures such as Harold Godwinson with an elegant sweep of her quill. Rochelle has breathed life into this vast cast of historical figures, and she has portrayed them in a remarkably realistic way — paying close attention, of course, to the historical sources from this time. I thought the portrayal of all the characters I encountered in this novel was brilliantly executed.
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