Loyal Horatio is a poor scholar at Wittenberg University, toiling away for years on a philosophical dissertation that has long since ceased to interest him, chiefly because of his badly concealed agnosticism. Into his narrow world comes Baron de Maricourt, who commissions a romantic play meant to laud his own holdings and flatter those among his friends. Horatio cannot afford to turn down the commission even if he struggles not only with the original source material but also with the increasingly ludicrous additions suggested by the Baron, or rather by his lady wife Adriane. Meanwhile, as Horatio wrestles with what sounds suspiciously like A Midsummer Night's Dream, he meets Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, and in this possibly mad but exceedingly fair wastrel, finds his muse.
Horatio writes for Hamlet, falls in love with him, and devises a way for Hamlet to act in his play. But this brings Hamlet into the sphere of Lady Adriane, the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets, with whom Horatio is also half in love and having an affair. And just as in Shakespeare's comedies, this love triangle becomes confused and befuddling. Add in a late-arrival in the character of a poet called Will Shake-speare, seemingly Horatio's rival both for the affections of both Hamlet and Lady Adriane and for the job of playwright/poet and the plot gets dizzyingly intricate.
Horatio narrates the majority of the novel but occasionally the reader hears from Lady Adriane's perspective when Horatio's limited knowledge of the complicated and carefully orchestrated situation doesn't reveal enough. It can be a little jarring, despite the font difference, the first time the narrator changes but in the end, it works well. Hermes has sprinkled little Shakespeare treats throughout the story and the astute reader will feel little puffs of pride at catching more than simply the most obvious of the allusions and famous lines. Her narrative is madcap and definitely twists Hamlet in ways I never would have suspected but she has done it with such facility that it seems nothing more than entirely plausible to me now having come to the end of her prequel.
It did take a sort of re-alignment of my expectations in order to sink fully into the text but once I did, the comedic twistings and turnings, the bed-hopping and gender identity issues, the nods and curtsies to the Bard, the wild imaginings, and even the sly questions on Shakespeare's authorship kept me reading along at a good clip. It's probably best for a reader to have some knowledge of Hamlet before reading this but those without that grounding might still find the romance and the tragedy of friendship, true love and loyalty appealing as well.
For more, be sure to visit Myrlin Hermes' website as well as her blog.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours for sending me a review copy of this book.