Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Cornwell, best known for his "Saxon Tales" and "Sharpe" series, has taken a sharp right turn and written a marvelous novel about the founding of what would become modern theater. Readers will fall in love with Richard Shakespeare, the younger brother of the famous William. The brothers have a contentious relationship. At 21, Richard desperately wants to put aside his long skirts, makeup, and high-pitched voice and play men's roles, but his physical beauty and popularity with the masses has kept him locked into female roles. Loath to lose his talents for playing queens and fairies, William has denied Richard a male role at every turn. In addition to turmoil within the troupe, the players are beset by troubles from outside, as other playhouses plot to steal Shakespeare's plays and Pursuivants round up suspected Catholics and hidden priests. It isn't until the company is invited to perform at the wedding of Lord Hunsdon's daughter that their fortunes begin to change. VERDICT Full of drama, both on- and offstage, and with numerous delightful, laugh-out-loud moments, this novel is an absolute joy. A must-have for anyone who loves the theater, this is easily the best book this reviewer has read this year. [See Prepub Alert, 7/31/17; "Editors' Fall Picks," LJ 9/1/17.]-Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage P.L., AK © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
School Library Journal Review
Just three weeks into his apprenticeship, Richard Shakespeare flees from Stratford after stealing from and then striking his brutal master in the head. Seeking refuge in London in his older brother Will's theater company, he becomes an actor, but he plays only women's roles, is poorly paid, and has to suffer his brother's scorn as well. When Will writes A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard plays his first male role but one that still requires portraying a woman in "the play within the play." He contemplates defecting to another playhouse, but, when Will's two new scripts are stolen, it is Richard who retrieves them, and his reward is the plum, masculine role of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Cornwell's novel is filled with historical and theatrical information, well-developed characters, intrigue, romance, and a fast-moving, ever-surprising plot. By focusing on Richard instead of on the Bard himself, the author reveals numerous details about the personal and professional lives of the Lord Chamberlain's Men while maintaining a distance from which his Richard can freely comment upon the action. Uncommon vocabulary is explained in context, and a wealth of details about Elizabethan customs and historical persons/situations add to the richness of the text, though some of the language can be rather crude. VERDICT An excellent, intimate portrait of Shakespeare's world for high school and public libraries with broad collection policies.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, formerly at LaSalle Academy, Providence © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In this delightful departure from his popular military historicals, Cornwell (The Flame Bearer, 2016) conducts a boisterous behind-the-scenes romp through the often sordid world of the Elizabethan theater. At center stage are the Shakespeare brothers, estranged for years but bound by their mutual love of the theater. William, already a celebrated playwright, and younger sibling Richard, an aspiring actor tired of playing exclusively female roles, clash until the theft of William's latest play entwines their destinies. When suspicion for the crime initially falls on Richard, he delves into the darkest recesses of London to recover the manuscript and salvage his personal reputation and theatrical career. Cornwell displays his usual masterful attention to detail as he vivifies the sprawling setting and firmly entrenches the narrative in historical context. Readers will learn much about the pathos and the pageantry of the Elizabethan theater while enjoying this sumptuously entertaining production.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2018 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Cornwell (The Flame Bearer, 2016, etc.) turns from conspiracies of crowned heads to mysteries in the world of Elizabethan theater.William Shakespeare's obscure real-life brother, Richard, an actor in William's company, is a decade younger, quite handsome, and yet resentful, angry, and petulant. His brother's cold welcome to London might be the cause, or perhaps it's William's condescending and cantankerous attitude. Cornwell is superb with mood and setting, whether uglyLondon's "reek of sewage and smoke"or elegant: "city churches mangled the air by striking eleven." There are descriptions of theaters, the great open-air structures built outside the city's walls because the "Puritan fathers of London...detest the playhouses and had banned them." The plot is a mystery within a play. Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain, has hired Shakespeare's company to perform an original play for his granddaughter's wedding. The Bard is imagining A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the new script will be one of his company's "most precious possessions." There was no copyright in those days, and plagiarism was rampant. A company that possessed a script, original or purloined, could perform it without adverse legal consequence. Richard is suborned by agents of the Earl of Lechlade to steal the script to be performed in a newer, larger theater, the Swan. He refuses. The script is stolen. William suspects ambitious, restless Richard. Richard offers to find the script and steal it back, his reward being a promotion to playing male roles. There are details about everything from the mostly Puritan, black-dressed thought police to theater makeup, in which eyes are shadowed with "soot mixed with pork fat." There are a plethora of characters, everyone distinctively sketched, and there's much ado about Shakespeare's creative process.A master craftsman at work: imaginative, intelligent, and just plain fun. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.