Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99stg (HB)
In her debut novel, Rebecca Reisert has taken one of Shakespeare's most celebrated works for the stage and retold the story through the eyes of a dispossessed teenage girl.
Gilly is our half-savage heroine. She scavenges amongst the dead bodies on the battlefields that scar the Scottish landscape and lives with Nettle and Mad Helga, two haggard women of indiscernible age – one with extensive knowledge of herb lore, the other with an obsession for playing with the bones of dead creatures she has failed to nurse back to health.
The tale unfolds slowly – all the reader knows at first is that Gilly has a thirst for revenge. Her constant mantra, "I have made my life an arrow …", is aimed at the man she refers to only as "Him".
Resisting the temptation to jump straight into her cleverly plotted re-visioning of "that Scottish play", Reisert instead opted to build character and tension and leave the reader guessing. Gradually, however, Gilly's path begins to criss-cross with key points in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth'.
Although Reisert sticks with the Shakespearian version of events when faced with a choice between history and fiction, she has anchored her tale firmly in medieval times, with strong descriptions and convincing detail about society and traditions.
Reisert's story offers solutions to many of the mysteries in the bard's original work: who are the three witches? What happened to the child Lady Macbeth says she nursed? Who is the third murderer? What happens to Banquo's son Fleance when he runs away? How does Lady Macbeth die?
With adventure, tragedy, love, revenge, a touch of the supernatural and a completely new perspective, Reisert's imagination has taken flight; the result is an inspired historical fantasy.