From the Publisher
“It's hard to imagine a better historical novel about the Bard than this one; in quality and power, it rivals Hilary Mantel's justly acclaimed books (Wolf Hall; Bring Up the Bodies) about Thomas Cromwell....Morgan's novel will stimulate the same literary enthusiasm for the Elizabethans.” Library Journal (starred review)
“Morgan writes masterful characters...In a layered narrative with a richness that rewards measured reading, Morgan re-creates Shakespeare's Elizabethan milieu, every place and person rendered with near-perfect realism....A tour de force.” Kirkus Reviews
“An imaginative, absorbing and totally believable story...[Morgan] even follows Shakespeare's lyrical meter and phraseology in this biography that's as lively as a Shakespeare comedy and as human as one of his dramas. Truly a delight to read. ” RT Book Reviews
“An entertaining read.” Booklist
Morgan (A Little Folly, 2013, etc.) draws restless young Will Shakespeare as he resists being trapped in apprenticeship to his glove-maker father. Will's father, John, once respectable alderman and bailiff, has been disgraced by missteps into unlicensed wool trading. Will has no real prospects, but he will not be a glove-maker. At 18, he meets older Anne Hathaway and marries, with her pregnant. Morgan writes page-turning historical fiction, hearth to farm to London, following Will, who is stringing "his soul along posts of dream and fantasy and invention and imitation." Will's a loyal son, devoted father and husband, but when a troupe of traveling players loses a member, he captures his dream, becoming a player and ending up in London. Will settles in "the great stinking trading-crowded roofed-over first place of the kingdom." In the great shadow of Christopher Marlowe, Will begins to write for theaters, his scribbling less than respectable but popular nonetheless. First are collaborations, plays Will doctors so that he might find stages to act upon, but his writing soon evolves into individual genius built upon folk tales and legends and cooperative stews, Will believing "there is no such thing as originality, except the originality that comes from synthesis." Soon, however, original comedies, dramas and tragedies flow swiftly, easily from his pen. Woven into the tapestry of Will's story is the thread of Ben Jonson's life, a London mason's brilliant stepson denied a Queen's Scholarship. Morgan writes masterful characters—royals, patrons and players; Marlowe, reckless rake; Jonson, arrogant, envious, but great loyal friend; Anne, earthy, passionate, loyal, fractured after the death of their son, lost and found again after Will's dalliance with the troubled Huguenot widow Isabelle Berger; and most of all, Will himself, great, gentle genius behind a placid, circumspect exterior, implacable, unknowable, all effortless burning brilliance. In a layered narrative with a richness that rewards measured reading, Morgan re-creates Shakespeare's Elizabethan milieu, every place and person rendered with near-perfect realism. A tour de force.
It's hard to imagine a better historical novel about the Bard than this one: in quality and power, it rivals Hilary Mantel's justly acclaimed books (Wolf Hall; Bring Up the Bodies) about Thomas Cromwell. In 1582, Will, neither player nor writer yet, is 18 years old; he has met and will soon woo his future bride, Anne Hathaway. By the time the novel ends in 1603 Will has written 28 plays—with 13 yet to come. British historical novelist Morgan (Charlotte and Emily; Passion) has taken the few facts we know of Anne Hathaway's life and used them to craft an utterly convincing story of her relationship to Will. It feels real, not a stage romance. Anne's a strong woman, and she loves Will, but she knows she's losing him—not so much to the temptations of London as to the greater temptations of his own imagination. His world is a vast stage. Hers is Stratford. Morgan switches perspective from Will to Anne to Will's rival/friend Ben Jonson without loss of momentum and shares the playwright's exuberant joy in wordworking. Thus Anne's neck, seen for the first time between collar and coif, seems to Will "like caged honey." That's evocative-and economical—writing. VERDICT Mantel has shown there is an audience for quality historical fiction about the Tudors, and Morgan's novel will stimulate the same literary enthusiasm for the Elizabethans. Mature readers will love this book. [For Shakespeare nonfiction, see Nicholas Graham's Collection Development feature, "Shakespeare at 450," LJ 1/14.—Ed.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA