Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Shakespeare's Ghost by Mary Hoffman

review by Maryom

Ned Lambert is a young actor with Will Shakespeare's company of players, The King's Men. In his teens, he's of an age to be moving from boys' parts playing women to 'proper' men's roles, and his future is looking bright. His attraction to Charity, the young seamstress who helps with the company's costumes, seems to be returned, Shakespeare himself has taken a shine to Ned and promised him a continuing place in the company, and he's even been noticed and befriended by Henry, the Prince of Wales. So, with all these things going right for him, why should Ned feel unsettled? Well, he's become entranced by a beautiful, mysterious woman, glimpsed fleetingly around the theatre. Could she really be, as she claims, a fairy drawn through from their world by her desire for Ned? Whoever she is Ned finds her irresistible, almost enough to leave his life behind and follow here where ever she leads. Talking his dilemma through with Shakespeare, Ned discovers Will too has been visited by the fairy folk, one of them returning frequently to inspire his writing. but are these other-worldly influences for good, or evil?

In Shakespeare's Ghost, Mary Hoffman takes the reader back to early seventeenth century London and the reign of James I, bringing to life  the wealth and privilege of the Court, the cramped, unsanitary housing of  'common' folk, and the make-believe world of the theatres. Over all Londoners though, no matter what their station in life, hangs the horrific threat of the Plague.
But although the backdrop is entirely realistic, against it plays out a story involving fantasy, other-worldly characters - the two aspects weaving together seamlessly, and maybe explaining Shakespeare's fascination with fairies and other paranormal creatures.

Although (without the reader realising it) there's a lot of social history to be picked up, this book is primarily an entertaining and engaging read, and a great way to persuade younger teens that Shakespeare isn't just that dull, dead guy whose plays you're forced to read at school. Ned is a character that I think readers will identify and sympathise with. A boy on the brink of manhood, forced to choose between a safe but possibly dull life with childhood sweetheart Charity, and one of seemingly impossible delight with Faelinn. Admittedly, the average person doesn't normally face such a choice but his dilemma reflects the more humdrum decisions we all have to make at times.

By pure coincidence, my previous read involved a young man being tempted by a strange, possibly other-worldly woman, and the one before that involved a young actor with Shakespeare's players, on the cusp of growing out of women's roles and taking on men's. How strange that this book combines both threads!

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher - The Greystones Press 
Genre - teen historical fiction fantasy

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