Friday, August 20, 2010

Shakespeare Fan Fiction: Reviews of Fool's Girl and Lady Macbeth's Daughter

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Shakespeare and his characters not only live forever in his own plays, but seem to inspire an endless stream of what I call "professional fan fiction"--that is, authors who use characters from other works to write unique literature of their own.  Today I'll be looking at two recent additions to the trove of Shakespeare-inspired fiction for teens:
The Fool's Girl by British author Celia Rees (Bloomsbury, 2010); and Lady Macbeth's Daughter, by American author Lisa Klein (Bloomsbury, 2009).  

The Fool's Girl:  I was eagerly anticipating reading The Fool's Girl, since I have read many of Rees' other historical novels, including Pirates!, Witch Child, and Sorceress, and have always found her books to be very compelling.  However, I have to say I was disappointed with her newest work, which I found confusing to follow and which just didn't sweep me away as her other books have done.  Inspired by Twelfth Night, which Rees says in an afterword is her favorite Shakespeare play, the novel centers around a young noble girl Violetta and her companion, Feste, the fool.  They have come to London from Illyria to rescue a holy relic, her country's greatest treasure, which the evil Malvolio has stolen and brought to England to help unite Catholics in a convoluted plot against Queen Elizabeth.  Somehow she turns to a young poet and actor, Will Shakespeare, for help in outwitting Malvolio and saving her country's heritage.  

Shakespeare himself is a key character in the story, and we meet him as a young poet and businessman trying to manage the Globe, write the plays, even serve as an actor.  We also see him as a family man, visiting his wife and daughters in Stratford-on-Avon.  

Violetta tells Will her story and that of her mother, Viola, which at the end of the novel he begins to weave into a new play, one which will turn into Twelfth Night.  Other Shakespeare plays also figure into the novel; parts of the story take place in the Forest of Arden, a wooded area near Stratford-on-Avon that is the setting for As You Like It, and the players put on Midsummer Night's Dream during the story, with Violetta playing a minor part (despite the fact that it was illegal for women to act on the stage at the time).  

Rees alternates the narration between Violetta, telling her story in the first person, Maria, formerly in the court of Violetta's mother, Feste, the fool, and a third person narrator; the profusion of narrators makes the complex story even more confusing.  For those who are intimately acquainted with Twelfth Night, the story may be less difficult to follow, but I fear this novel will be a hard sell with teens who aren't familiar with the play, or that they will start the book but not complete it.  Certainly many will be drawn to this book by the gorgeous cover (another YA novel continuing the trend of partial faces....)

I did enjoy how Rees captured the spirit of Elizabethan England with many evocative period details; I thought the section of the novel where the players travel and put on plays in the various towns where they stop was particularly well done, showing how the players transformed ordinary inns into magical theaters for the common folk (and how rare such entertainment was for those in the countryside!) 

Lady MacBeth's Daughter:  I found Lisa Klein's re-imagining of Shakespeare's Macbeth much more successful than The Fool's Girl.  In her afterword, Klein says she wanted to give an "entirely new perspective on the events of Shakespeare's play, using a protagonist who is outside the main action but crucial to its unfolding."  Instead of using a character already in the play,  Klein adds an entirely new character to Shakespeare's mix--a daughter, Albia, born to Lady Macbeth and her husband.  While in the play Lady Macbeth is barren, Klein was inspired by a scene where Lady Macbeth says to her husband, "I have given suck, and know/How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me..." (1.7.54-55).  This passage certainly suggests that Lady Macbeth had a child who subsequently died, a common enough occurrence in those times.  

In the prologue of this novel, Lady Macbeth gives birth to a girl child with a crippled leg--a child considered so worthless that she is put out for the wolves to eat.  However, Lady Macbeth's servant rescues the baby, and brings her to the woods where she is raised with no knowledge of her royal heritage by three strange sisters (the witches in the play).  

We see the essential events in Shakespeare's play unfold through two different narrators, Grelach (Lady Macbeth), and her daughter, Albia.  When Macbeth's fortune is foretold by the weird sisters, Albia's life becomes intertwined with theirs.  Sent to live with Banquo and his family to serve as companion to his wife, Albia falls in love with their handsome son, Fleance, who teaches her to use a sword and hone her "warlike spirit."  While she learns to fight, the romantic sparks fly between the two young people as well.  

It is only when her foster mother lies dying that Albia learns the truth--Macbeth, now Scotland's king, is her father, and she receives a valuable gold bracelet that belonged to her mother as proof.  Albia, like the three sisters, has the gift of sight, and realizes with horror that she is the daughter of a murderer and his wife, who are making all of Scotland suffer.  Can she save the man she loves, and her country as well?  

Albia is a take charge heroine who should appeal to girls who like characters like Katniss in The Hunger Games.  I am familiar with the original play of Macbeth, but felt this novel could be read by those who hadn't read or seen the play, and might in fact inspire them to seek out the play either for reading or to watch on DVD.  I particularly enjoyed how Klein's writing invoked the gloomy mood of the original, with its pervasive violence, witches, and battles, while still including a spark of romance that appeals to her teenage audience.  

An author's note provides some useful background on Shakespeare's own sources, as well as information on the "real" Macbeth and some of the sources the author used to so effectively recreate the atmosphere of ancient Scotland.  

Watch my blog for more on Shakespeare-inspired novels for teens in a future post.  

1 comment:

Stephanie (Books Are A Girl's Best Friend) said...

I reviewed two Shakespeare inspired YA HF on my blog recently, I think there's been quite a trend for it which is a brilliant thing.

I have The Fool's Girl sitting on my shelf at gome waiting to be read, I took it on holiday but didn't get a chance to read it. I have studied Twelfth Night in detial recently at school so following it shouldn't be too hard for me.Unlike you, I haven't read any of Rees' other books but I have Witch Child and Sovay waiting to be read too.

I've heard of Lady McBeth's Duaghter before but your post reminded me of it (thank you) , I'll have to add it ot my wish list!