Book Review: Blood Queen by Joanna Courtney


Blood Queen is the first book in the Shakespeare’s Queens series by Joanna Courtney.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Rich in historical detail and vivid imagery, Blood Queen is the story of two strong women – one of whom is Lady Macbeth – battling for the Scottish throne in the eleventh century. 2.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Cold. Ruthless. Deadly. The myth of Lady Macbeth looms large. But behind the villainous portrait stands a real woman. This is her story.

Scotland, 1020 AD – King Malcolm II is fading fast. It is North vs South, for two families have a claim on the inheritance of his crown. Who will gain the Scottish throne?

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, a flushed and nervous Cora MacDuff waits to marry her sweetheart, Macbeth. But her dreams are about to be stolen from her as the night she was hoping for turns into a brutal slaughter. In order to reclaim the life she was promised, she will learn to use every weapon at her disposal – even her son.

Favourite Quote

He was so wee, so helpless, but, without even knowing it yet, he was so very powerful. It was both a torment and a source of joy.

(From Blood Queen by Joanna Courtney, page 81)


As soon as I saw the cover to this book, with its red and gold colours, the style of lettering, the Celtic cross necklace…it had my attention.  There was no question of me walking away from it without purchasing a copy.

However, hmm…this book was a bit of a mixed bag.  There were somethings that I enjoyed and others not so much.  What I will say is that I had quite high expectations for the story, and it did have great potential, but it was not the book I hoped it would be.

My biggest problem, I think, was this book was marketed as the tale of Lady Macbeth, which was inaccurate.  In my opinion, it was the story of two women, one of whom was Lady Macbeth, the other Lady Duncan.  The story switches between their POVs and documents a struggle for the Alban throne during the early to mid eleventh century.

One of the big positives I took from the book was that these two women were strong, brave and courageous, unquestioningly and unapologetically so.  It is they who provide the driving force for the fight for the crown, spurring their menfolk towards kingship and vengeance when it is often perceived that women at that time had very limited influence in the world.

That being said, I think my favourite character was probably Macbeth himself.  His love for Cora was always unwavering and sincere, even when Cora didn’t necessarily deserve it, for her character had a harsh streak to it, until age had mellowed her. I also liked Duncan for his love of Sibyll and he freely admitted to her that she was the source of his strength.  Out of Cora and Sibyll, I preferred the latter; her support for husband when even his own family doubted him was heart-warming to read.

I was caught a little off guard by a number of graphic passages in the story, some of them being violence against women, which although isn’t historically inaccurate, it was unexpected. You’ve been warned!

The scenery was very well described, and it was clear that the writer had gone to great lengths to research the historical detail.  I like that a character lived in a crannog – a house on stilts built over water and connected to the mainland by a timber bridge.

When I got to the end of the story and started reading the historical notes, I learned that the names of the characters had been changed to ones that were more pronounceable to modern readers.  I understand why the author decided to do this, I do, but I wonder if a pronunciation guide at the beginning might have been a better, more authentic option.

The second book in this series, Fire Queen, tells the tale of Ophelia, which I hope to get around to reading at some point, but I’m not sure when that will be.


2.5 / 5


6 thoughts on “Book Review: Blood Queen by Joanna Courtney

  1. Reading this kind of review (or having the same reaction to a book myself) always makes me wonder if the author would have been better off writing a completely fictional account that was *inspired* by historical characters (or by a Shakespeare play that has dubious historical accuracy to begin with). If you’re going to make up so much of it from whole cloth anyway, why not start from scratch and have freedom to write a truly good story?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! I think that would have been a far better option. Either that or leave out the historical note at the end so that the reader doesn’t know what you’ve altered to suit your story and what you’ve left in tact. Although I am a great fan of historical notes, reading the one at the end of this book didn’t so much add to the story but took away from it, I thought…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m a big fan of historical notes myself, especially if it involves admitting that the author changed things around — that I definitely want to know! And if the end result is that the reader likes the story less, well, maybe the story wasn’t such a good idea.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Bookish Reflections – March 2020 | Sammi Loves Books

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