Friday, 24 November 2017

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell


review by Maryom


Richard Shakespeare is at a difficult point in his acting career - too old to play female parts, and not sure if his current company of players will keep him on in men's roles, even though it's part-owned by his brother William. So when he hears of a possible opportunity at a new theatre, he's definitely tempted. But the competition between the playhouses of Elizabethan London is intense, and there'd be a price to pay for Richard's new position - stealing the script of his brother's latest play (the one set in Verona about star-crossed lovers...)

Now, I haven't read much of Bernard Cornwell's work, but this feels very different to the few Sharpe novels I've read, or to The Last Kingdom as seen on TV. There are no huge pitched battles, or even small skirmishes; it's more of a foray behind the scenes of the playhouses, taverns and palaces of sixteenth century London. It's a rather cut-throat world with playhouses willing to go to almost any lengths to draw the crowds in by staging something bigger, better, and newer than their opponents, and the theatrical community faces threats from outside as well - particularly from the Puritans, eager to see all such entertainments closed down. Cornwell brings it all wonderfully to life; the players with their rivalries and superstitions, the backstage peep at rehearsals for A Midsummer's Night Dream, the excitement of opening night or the dread of something going horribly wrong. To my mind, there's more than a touch of Shakespeare in Love about Fools and Mortals - not in the plot but in the representations of some of the characters, in the theatrical banter, and Will Shakespeare's as yet untitled work in progress  - but it's not a bad thing. In fact, I loved it.

As with the Sharpe novels, there's a blend of fact and fiction. The Lord Chamberlain's Men were a real acting company, and our hero, Richard, rubs shoulders with real historical figures - both actors - Kemp, Burbage, and of course William Shakespeare - and their noble patrons, including the Lord Chamberlain, a close relative of the Queen, and his family.

Generally it's a good, entertaining 'fun' adventure, with a little violence but not much. I'd say this counts as adult fiction, but if you have any teens struggling with Shakespeare at school, finding him and his plays too dull for words, give them this to read; it might just change their minds.

As I said above, Fools and Mortals is a new departure for Bernard Cornwell, and perhaps the first of a series. I hope so. 


Maryom's review - 4.5
Publisher - Harper Collins 
Genre -
 Adult historical fiction

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