Spoiler Warning for Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin
Content Warning: This article discusses murder and sexual assault, but not explicitly. The novel does not describe the assault in detail but uses vague flashbacks, however other themes are described explicitly like murder, blood, transphobic bullying(not excused by the narrative), and a suicide attempt.
“We’re magic. I can feel it right now in the dark. We’re invisible when we need to be and then so firework-bright no one can look away. We’re patience and brilliance. We never forget. We never forgive.”
— Jade Khanjara, Foul is Fair
Hannah Capin’s YA Macbeth retelling is unapologetically out for blood. After being sexually assaulted by a group of boys at a prep-school party, our main character vows to kill them all. With her new dagger-sharp claws and revenge-black hair, Elizabeth Khanjara becomes Jade.
Jade — our Lady Macbeth — and her self-proclaimed coven of witches craft a plot to take the guilty golden-boys of St. Andrews down in a permanent way. Duncan the alpha, the king. Duffy, the favorite. Connor, the worst of them. Banks, the biggest.
And Mack, clean-cut and honorable — the boy who will kill them all.
The coven never forgets. They never forgive. And they are not sorry.
If you need a refresher on the plot of Macbeth, here’s the Sparknotes summary. Here’s where Foul is Fair hits all the marks of a great retelling.
1. Nods to the Play.
Foul is Fair makes the right decisions in diverging from Shakespeare’s traditional plot. The names Banquo and Macbeth are refreshed into Banks and Mack, because who would name their kid Banquo today? These and other subtle nods to the original play are scattered throughout the story. Duncan is referred to as King Duncan. But the novel does not chain itself to the events of the play. There is no charge on Dunsinane in the final act, and the trees do not walk, but there are some moments that mirror the poetic lines — keep your eyes out for blood and hand washing.
2. Lady Macbeth as MC
In Shakespeare’s play Lady Macbeth plays a side-role. She was wicked before, but as the main character in Foul is Fair she’s deliciously evil. Jade fits the role perfectly and whispers her ambition into Mack’s ear. “He’ll kill them,” Jade says. “He’ll do it and he’ll think he chose it all on his own.”
The coven — Summer, Jenny, and Mads — being tied to Lady Macbeth really works for the plot. The sisterhood, bound by something more than blood, schemes in a way that makes you on their side. They are fiercely loyal and defend each other. As Jade says, “they are mine and I am theirs.”
In Foul is Fair, Lady Macbeth wins, getting away with kill after kill all while keeping her sanity (she’s not sexualized for her ambition or violence either!). Jade is always stronger than Mack, always more fearless and all-in. If anything, our Macbeth becomes the crazier, unhinged character. Jade only loses some of her grit when she reveals too much information, but her resolve strengthens her again. She’s not giving up until every one of them is dead.
3. All Aboard the Murder Train!
Okay, there’s a lot of death in this book. And if you’re not into that, I get it. But I would be surprised if by chapter two you weren’t hopping on the murder train with me. Even if you know they will all die, it’s about witnessing how the murders unfold, not their outcome. The deaths vary in method and viciousness, but all are soaked with revenge and Capin’s fantastic imagery. And somehow you find yourself on Jade’s side. You want her to get away with it, you want the guilty ones dead too.
Jade is not a morally “good” person. But even after finishing the book I’m still thinking, “oh it wasn’t that bad.” The fact that I’m convinced Jade did the right thing through murder speaks to the talent of Hannah Capin.
Side note: I also just find it really satisfying that the kills line up at the 25%, 50%, and 75% marks. It really demonstrates the separation between story acts.
4. Pointy Pointy Stabby Stabby
Not only is the dagger an important symbol in Macbeth, but daggers and sharp images appear all over the place in Foul is Fair. This includes but is not limited to: Jade’s laugh becoming “a dagger that blots out the sun,” her nails like daggers, and fencing (you know, literal swords).
But taking a step away from literal knives, Capin’s imagery is sharp and intoxicating, reminding us of a witch’s spell.
“Tonight we have knives where they think our hearts should be.”
“Lilia blinks, mascara-heavy hummingbird wings. ‘When did you start telling me who my friends are?’ The rest of them breathe in the drama so hard their lungs almost burst.”
“My eyes open wide and soak in the brilliant blazing morning. The breeze curls in through the balcony door. Inverness is all mine.”
5. Balancing Ambition and Trauma
Jade’s ambition allows her to infiltrate the group of golden-boys, twist Mack into her murder weapon, and steal his heart. After every step in her plan we’re left wondering, “is this when she goes to far?” “Is this when it all falls apart?” Nope! Jade and her coven see the plan through until the very end, and Capin’s tension keeps us on the knife’s edge.
The inciting incident of the book is the assault on Jade. It is important to say that at no point does the narrative blame her for it. The bystanders are just as guilty as the golden-boys.
The narrative addresses the assault in Jade’s mind without being gratuitous. Jade becomes separated from the girl she used to be in the second chapter, and we are immediately outraged through Capin’s expert handle on the prose. We understand Jade’s want for revenge and are all-in.
This Macbeth retelling captures the vicious ambition of the original without chaining itself to the old-fashioned plot. Lady Macbeth as the main character is an intelligent, feminist choice by Capin, and one that is able to play out our wildest revenge fantasies, kicking rape-culture in the teeth. Jade takes fate into her own hands. Foul is Fair will shock the reader, and we are here for it.
is a writer based in North Carolina. She attends writing classes of all kinds at UNC Chapel Hill and has a particular fondness for sharp imagery. In her free time, she drafts her own novels.