My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Bernard Cornwell is, without a doubt, one of the finest historical novelists writing in the genre imho and this is no exception.
It’s a slight departure from his usual style as there’s no warfare or great battles as in the Sharpe or the Warlord novels, instead it takes the reader firmly into Elizabethan England at a time when William Shakespeare was in the city establishing The Globe theatre and getting into conflict with the Lord Chancellor’s Men a vival theatre company, and fighting with the rising Puritanical influence on the entertainments of the city.
The hero is William’s brother Richard, again a real historical figure although not one we know as much about as his famous sibling, and he’s a fully rounded character, neither sympathetic nor villainous. William isn’t portrayed in a particularly flattering light so lovers of the Bard take heed!
The plot focuses on the rehearsals and first night performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the book it’s written to celebrate the marriage of the Lord Chancellor’s daughter (again with the historical placement of the narrative which I love from Cornwell) so there’s all the usual rivalries, backstabbing, petty feuding and problems with the production.
There are familiar faces from history too, the great actor Will Kemp makes an appearance, there’s visits from the nobility and, arcing over the whole thing, is the pressure to perform the play and get one over the new rival theatre which has been established at The Swan.
The intrigue keeps the reader interested, there’s a side order of romance to bring a bit of light-hearted relief, and the fractious relationship between William and Richard elevates the plot with petty jealousies as only sibling rivalry can.
For lovers of Cornwell it’s a no brainer to add this to your bookshelves, but for lovers of both Elizabethan history and of the great playwright it’s a romp through a fascinating period in time when England really did rule the waves both economically and intellectually.
#ARC received from Harper Collins via NetGalley in return for an honest and unbiased review