THE THIRD WITCH by Rebecca Reisert


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The story of Macbeth’s downfall told from the point of view of the title character, a young girl out to avenge her father’s murder.

Since early childhood, Gilly has lived in Birnam Wood with Nettle and Mad Helga, who scrounge out a livelihood concocting herbal remedies and scavenging among the battlefield dead. Adolescent Gilly fancies herself “an arrow of vengeance” aimed at Macbeth, whom she blames for the destruction of her original family. She nags the kindly old women until finally Helga promises she will help bring down Macbeth if Gilly can bring her three pieces of his heart. Full of self-importance and hate, Gilly sets out. She pretends to be a boy to get work into the kitchen of Macbeth’s castle and plot his destruction. She also befriends Banquo’s studious son Fleance and good King Duncan’s handsome son Malcolm. Sneaking into the couple’s chamber, she overhears a conversation between Macbeth and his wife, who the reader will not be surprised to learn is Gilly’s mother. Realizing the “three pieces” of Macbeth’s heart are his loyalty to the king, his love of his wife, and his longing to be king himself, Gilly returns to Birnam Wood and goads Nettle and Helga into a meeting with Macbeth in which they will pretend to foresee his future. Back at the castle, she witnesses Duncan’s death and helps Malcolm get away, then unsuccessfully tries to save Banquo and manages to rescue Fleance. Her sense of responsibility for these deaths and that of Lady Macduff, who showed her great affection, gnaws at Gilly's conscience, but she steels herself against emotion. Finally, Macbeth comes to ruin, and Lady Macbeth in her madness shares with Gilly her version of their family tragedy. To playwright Reisert’s credit, the parallels between the avenging lass and her enemies are not lost on Gilly any more than on the reader.

A witty and thought-provoking debut, with an imperfect though endearing heroine whose flaws are not tragic but very human.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-7434-1771-2
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Washington Square/Pocket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2001