My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I would never have thought there was more to Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet, but lo and behold, not only is there more but it’s intense and magical and deeply political. R&J has become a trite school rite-of-passage; everyone has 14-year-olds asking “wherefore art thou Romeo?” and so no one gives it a passing thought.
Rachel Caine took a second glance, and her story brings to life a Verona as thick with blood in the streets as any block warred over by crips and bloods. It’s told from Benvolio’s perspective, the annoyed and no-fun cousin who just thinks everyone should stop fighting already. But why? The Prince of Shadows has an answer.
As a fan of the Baz Luhrman version of R&J, I can’t help but see that cast in this story, particularly in the maddened/drunken/high out of his mind Mercutio. But instead of the passing whimsy friend who dies for no good reason, Caine gives us a powerful backstory that pushes the whole plot–love and death and all–forward.
I was worried this book would be a rote retelling, but the actual Shakespearean language comes in only briefly, and always raises the sense of dread. (“Oh no,” you think, “that means we’re in Act Three! He’s running out of time!”) Caine has upgraded the apothecary to a herbalist/witch, to great effect. It has all the feel of the original, with modern depth and a much higher headcount.
This is a great book for a summer’s day before you hit up the Shakespeare in the Park. You’ll never look at R&J the same.