Saturday, January 13, 2007
The Shakespeare Stealer Series
A couple of months ago when I was shelving books while volunteering at Amanda's school library, an interesting looking book jumped out at me: The Shakespeare Stealer, by Gary Blackwood. I wanted to review this three-book series all at once, but I've had a hard time waiting. I am glad to see that it is available in one volume, which is always a thrifty way to purchase this type of series.
From the first, I was pulled into the story of Widge, an orphan working as an apprentice to the inventor of a type of shorthand. He ends up working for Shakespeare's play company (in a role that evolves over the three-book series). I don't like to give too much away, so I will stay away from details, only to say that this is a well-written series with some flat characters, yet others (such as Widge) which are fully developed and quite likeable. Each book carries a type of suspense that is effectively shielded from the reader until the appropriate dramatic moment, even when reading a first-person account. I thought that the first two books were much stronger than the third, but I had to keep reading to find out how Widge turned out.
As regular readers know, I enjoy learning something while I'm reading fiction. Reading this series of books taught me about the time and circumstances during which Shakespeare wrote and made me want to find out more about Elizabethan England (after reading the Royal Diary, Elizabeth I, I was already curious). It also peaked my interest in the Plague (which figures prominently in the second book), and in Shakespeare's plays in general. I'm not sure that as a mom I have the energy to read Shakespeare, but when I stumbled across Tales from Shakespeare at one of my favorite discount bookstores, I figured that would tide me over. The book is interesting, and I was particularly taken by the introduction, which implied that the book was written to expose children to Shakespeare's original stories, without the verse.
I think that Shakespeare Stealer series would be a great read for a junior high student, or a freshman in high school (or an adult Shakespeare lover looking for a light read). After reading a fictional account of Shakespeare's players (and starring Shakespeare himself), their interest couldn't avoid being pricked, which might lead to more enjoyment of the plays that they will inevitably be assigned in high school. The second and third books in the series, Shakespeare's Scribe and Shakespeare's Spy, deal with the life of an actor and the life of a writer, so I would also recommend it it to a child with artistic ambition. Because Widge is an orphan, an adopted child or an orphan who struggles with identity could probably relate as well. The reading level and the subject matter would probably be fine for any proficient reader, age 10 and up.
Check out some of my other favorite recommendations and what else I hope to read in 2007 in my aStore.
This book review is linked up to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.