Written by Helen Skinner
“Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.” In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, these are the words spoken by the three witches to Macbeth’s friend, Banquo. Soon after this, Banquo is murdered and his son, Fleance, flees Scotland and does not appear again in the play. In Heir to a Prophecy, we follow Fleance as he escapes to Wales and joins the court of the Welsh king, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. Here he meets Gruffydd’s daughter, Nesta, and they have a child together. The name of this child is Walter and it is through him that the witches’ prophecy will eventually be fulfilled.
According to some legends, the Stewart monarchs of Scotland were descended from Fleance, although more recent research has shown that in reality Banquo and Fleance probably never even existed. However, this doesn’t make Heir to a Prophecy any less enjoyable to read. The witches’ prophecy is a starting point which the author uses to explore the history of the 11th century, mixing fact, fiction and fantasy together into one fascinating story.
As we accompany first Fleance, then Walter on a journey through medieval Scotland, England and Wales, we witness the unfolding of important historical events which will shape the future of the British Isles. We spend some time in France where William of Normandy, with his eye on the throne of England, is preparing to cross the Channel. His invasion will result in victory over Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, but a period of further discontent and rebellion will follow. We also join Walter as he embarks on a personal mission to discover the truth behind his grandfather Banquo’s murder and ultimately to return to his rightful place by the side of Scotland’s King Malcom III.
I should point out that it’s not necessary to have read Macbeth before reading Heir to a Prophecy; this is a complete novel in itself and doesn’t assume any previous knowledge. In fact, I was quite surprised to find that most of the plot has nothing to do with Shakespeare at all but is based on a solid historical background. Banquo and Fleance may have been no more than fictional characters, but there are plenty of characters in the novel who are based on real historical figures. Most of us will probably have heard of William the Conqueror and Edward the Confessor, but there are others, such as Alain le Roux of Brittany, Eadgar Aetheling and Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, with whom you may or may not be familiar depending on how much you know about medieval history.
Walter is the novel’s main protagonist (although not all of the story is told from his perspective) and I found him a very interesting one. There’s a lot of character development throughout the novel as he learns from past mistakes, masters his quick temper and grows from an impetuous boy into a wise and responsible adult. I could sympathise with him every time he found himself with his loyalties divided and a difficult decision to make – something which happens often, as Walter has connections to both Scotland and Wales, as well as having spent time in England and France, forming friendships and alliances in each of those countries. There’s also a romantic interest for Walter, although this doesn’t form a large part of the plot.
While the story is based on a mixture of fact and fiction, the historical setting feels vivid and real. There’s always a sense that the novel has been well researched in order to give us a good idea of how people may have lived in the 11th century. I also enjoyed the little supernatural touches Rochelle slips into the story, with the witches popping up from time to time to make further prophecies. There are some battle scenes too – something I often struggle with – but I was pleased to find that there aren’t too many of these and that they are easy enough to follow.
Heir to a Prophecy provides a good introduction to a fascinating era of history while for those readers already familiar with the period, the addition of the Shakespearean references and Walter’s personal story means that there is always something new to discover and learn.
Mercedes Rochelle, Heir to a Prophecy (Top Hat Books, 2014), 978-1782797548, 418 pages, paperback.