Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Queen Hereafter"

Susan Fraser King is a multi-published, bestselling, award-winning author and a former art history lecturer. She holds a B.A. in art and an M.A. and most of a Ph.D. in art history, with postgraduate work in medieval studies. Her books are widely praised for historical detail and a lyrical writing style, and she has won multiple honors and awards for her novels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Queen Hereafter, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Queen Hereafter:
“Did Malcolm bring back with him the Saxon knights he captured in England?” Margaret asked.

“This is a victor’s return, to be celebrated,” Lady Gudrun replied. “The king brought slaves and prisoners out of England, true, but it is part of war. He will earn good income for Scotland’s treasury by ransoming those men.”

“He will wait years to be paid,” Margaret said bitterly. “The poor Saxons have nothing left.”

“Hush,” Margaret’s mother whispered, leaning toward her. “We are guests here, dependent on Malcolm’s good will. And you, of all of us, must take care.”

“Why?” Margaret felt dread turn in her stomach. She waited for her mother to mention marriage negotiations, confirming the fear Margaret had entertained ever since leaving the convent last November. But Lady Agatha did not answer, merely turned away to examine Lady Juliana’s stitchery, correcting the girl’s technique.

Silent, Margaret knotted the last threads while the other women chatted about King Malcolm. As she used her little silver scissors, she realized that news of the king’s deeds left her with resentment, even defiance, which daily prayer could not ease. She held up the stitchery piece to examine it, hearing murmurs of admiration around her.

“Excellent work.” Her mother peered closely. “But those few stitches are crooked.”

Without answer or expression, Margaret began to tear out the flawed threads.
This page is part of a conversation between Margaret, a Saxon princess newly arrived in Scotland, having escaped the Norman invasion of England with her family, who were shipwrecked on the Scottish coast and given sanctuary by the king of Scots, Malcolm Canmore. Here we also see Margaret’s strict and demanding mother, Lady Agatha, and other women as they sit at their sewing. Margaret is aware that her brother, Edgar of England, is probably negotiating a marriage for her with the warrior-king Malcolm in return for assistance in fighting the Normans. Yet Margaret has no desire to remain in Scotland, which seems a backward place to her, nor is she interested in marrying Scotland’s coarse warlord king, who nonetheless has shown interest in her. She has always planned to be a nun, and she wants nothing more than to go home and find peace; but she has no idea, at this point, what the future holds for her.

It’s an interesting place to dip into the book, as it shows some of Margaret’s tension and conflict as she dreads what is about to be arranged without her consent. We also see her intelligence, her compassion for the downtrodden Saxon people, and the curious way that this strong-willed young woman responds to her mother and to obligation: she essentially bites her tongue and rips out the offending embroidery stitches rather than speak up for herself, which would go against her upbringing. Let me assure you that Margaret finds her own strengths later in her story!
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Fraser King's website.

Writers Read: Susan Fraser King.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue