Macbeth: A Novel by AJ Hartley and David Hewson

macbeth a novelSwords and sorcery…

🙂 🙂 🙂 😐

In their afterword, the authors say ‘..our book…must be a new artistic product in its own right..’ Sadly, I think they have failed in that objective. The book is based so closely on Shakespeare’s play, with only some changes in emphasis, that it isn’t possible to see it as a new artistic work. Throughout they take every opportunity to use the most-quoted words of the playwright – if this is a ‘new’ work then it is relies too heavily on borrowing from the old. If however, it is in fact a reworking of the play, which I believe it is, then it doesn’t begin to compare on an artistic level.

In fact, it reads more like a historical sword and sorcery potboiler than like the psychologically complex and illuminating original. I found myself unmoved by the fate of either Macbeth or Lady Macbeth – despite considerably detailed descriptions of the events before and after the murder of Duncan, for me the authors failed to convey the horror, guilt and ultimate madness that Shakespeare got across with far fewer words. The lengthy descriptions of the landscape, fortresses and battles served merely to slow the plot down and to turn this from a psychological study of two complex individuals into a rather slow-moving action thriller – one in which we unfortunately already knew the end.

dench as lady macbeth2

Where the authors mainly differed from Shakespeare was in the portrayal of the witches. Given a much more all-pervading role here, the emphasis became one of the supernatural controlling the puny affairs of men, whereas in the original, (in my humble opinion), Macbeth’s superstition is used primarily to further demonstrate the psychological weaknesses of the man.


I have struggled to decide what star rating to give the book. While my fairly damning review above shows that I don’t think it reaches the artistic height the authors were clearly aiming for, it is nevertheless well-written and for someone less interested in the original would work well as a historical action novel in the vein of Conn Iggulden or Robert Low. I am therefore rating it as 4-star on that basis, though it would merit only 3 if I were to judge it solely in comparison with its illustrious ancestor.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK. The pictures are, of course, from the Trevor Nunn production with Judi Dench and Ian McKellen.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

21 thoughts on “Macbeth: A Novel by AJ Hartley and David Hewson

    • Thanks, Prof! I’m heartily tired of people using the classics as a way to attract an audience – presumably they only attract fans of the originals, and then only to disappoint. Mind you, I’m sure my first opus, Huckleberry MacFinn, will be a huge best-seller… 😎

      • 😆 Agreed! We need some more originals. Did you ever read the Pride and Prejudice zombies book?

        Something tells me that Bob would not be happy if you wrote a book like that…He might contact WM (white moustache)!!!

          • Yes, there is. I didn’t think you were the zombie type. The book is called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Now, I warn you, I have never read it. So I don’t know if it will be harmful to you! 😉

            • Quotes from Amazon reviewers –

              ‘the whole ninja aspect merely wrenches what minimal period charm could have remained in the concept’

              ‘gross, apocalyptic carnage’

              ‘Elizabeth’s ‘wildness’ … is here turned into a ninja warrior’s skill’

              ROFL! On second thoughts, don’t know if I’m strong enough…

            • Ninjas? 😆 I didn’t know there were ninjas! I was actually quite surprised that you wanted to read it! I’ll tell you one thing, this professor wouldn’t be strong enough to take it!

  1. Haven’t read it, don’t want to. Surely the point of Shakespeare is the language, not the stories, which are usually
    a) well known (i.e. pinched), and
    b) Tudor propaganda.

  2. Sounds like they’re spending way too much time riding on the coattails of the Bard. Too bad. I’ve got to go back and read Macbeth again. A friend’s son starred in that “Scottish Play” a couple of weeks ago and I was unable to attend. So must read again.

  3. I saw a Russian film of Macbeth once (bad choice of boyfriend) in which, every time anyone had an evil thought, their eyes lit up! Maybe your authors would have liked it?

  4. Have you seen today’s news that the Nonsuch Press, no less, is commisioning well-known authors to rewrite Shakespeares plays, for example, Jeannette Winterton is doing ” A Winter’s Tale”. Am I crazy, or is everyone else?

    • If I answered ‘Both!’ to that question, would you hit me? 😉

      It is a completely crazy idea though – as you said, the stories are secondary to the language and, I would add, for the more serious plays the insight into character. Just another money-making wheeze – but I suppose that must mean they think there’s a market for it.

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