Dunedin writer takes up Shakespeare's challenge

Gillian Vine reviews Banquo's Son.

Penguin, $37, pbk

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, when Banquo is attacked by the three murderers, he tells his son: "Fly good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!"

The boy escapes, but the playwright gives no clue as to his fate.

Three centuries later, Dunedin writer T.K.Roxborogh picks up the challenge in Banquo's Son.

The story opens in 1053, 10 years after the events in Macbeth.

During that time, Fleance has lived in the north of England with the family that found him close to death in the woods.

But now, at 20, he feels compelled to act upon his father's call: "Thou mayst revenge."

Fleance leaves Rosie, the young woman to whom he is betrothed, and returns to Scotland, where he is readily accepted into the court of King Donalbain, great-grandson of Banquo's brother, Malcolm II.

Donalbain's older children, Duncan and Rachel, become close friends, and to them Fleance reveals his identity, which he has kept secret during his time in exile.

Familiar characters from Macbeth, notably the Three Witches and Banquo's ghost, return to advise Donalbain (the hags) and pressure Fleance (the ghost), but a weakness of the novel is that Fleance's quest to find his father's killers appears almost incidental, rather than pivotal.

The book ends with Fleance torn between love and duty.

Should he marry Princess Rachel, as Duncan has urged him, or remain true to his commoner love Rosie? Blood Lines, the second book in the Fleance trilogy, is due out next year, so which woman Fleance chooses will presumably be revealed.

Given the price of the book, it appears the target market is adult - young adult fiction usually retails for about $10 less - but two factors suggest otherwise.

The principal characters are in their teens and very early 20s and there is no sex - hallmarks of young adult fiction.

Whatever the market, Banquo's Son is a good read, although those with an interest in 11th-century history may find the portrayal of a united Scotland somewhat simplistic, and doubtless be amused by the frequency with which Fleance changes his clothes, washes and even cleans his teeth.

But reality could make Fleance much less appealing, so Roxborogh has made the right call: this is fiction, after all.

- Gillian Vine is a Dunedin writer.


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