Will Shakespeare is about to meet the girl who will change his life forever. After a mixed-up courtship with the Hathaway sisters ends badly, Will jumps at the chance to go to London, where he can pursue his dream of becoming an actor. There, Will meets the unusually tall (and strong) Meg who has earned the nickname “Long Meg” for her height. She’s also fleeing her own past as an orphan turned thief. Disguised as “Mack,” Meg was once a member of a band of boy thieves who betrayed her. When Will is robbed by those same villains, Meg disguises herself as “Mack” again–telling Will that Mack is her twin brother–in order to help Will recover his money. As Mack, she finds true friendship with Will. But is there more? And who is Meg really fooling with her disguise?
What ensues is a tale involving love triangles, mistaken identities, and the pursuit of hapless villains, as Shakespeare becomes a key player in a lively drama that could have sprung from his own pen.
Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books for this eARC! This title will be released on July 30th.
I will make an admission here: I am an English major who hates Shakespeare. Well, most Shakespeare, except for Twelfth Night and a few others. So when I found out Lisa Klein had written a ya novel about how Shakespeare came up with the plot for Twelfth Night, I jumped on it. Sadly, what I found was mostly a trite and overwrought story that left me laughing at it’s weirdness in the end–and not in a good way.
The book opens up with a LOT of telling. (you know, in the show vs. tell fashion that most writers hear about at some point.) We get the complete background on Meg and Will, which reads more like a bio than a piece of writing meant to engage a reader. True, Meg has a really interesting background, as her father died in prison and her mother went mad with grief, thinking she’d killed him, then killed the priest she was sleeping with to try and relieve his debts before jumping off a warf. Will’s is stitched together from historical fact, all about his father and blah blah blah. I found myself skipping ahead just to get to a point where something actually happened. Then Will falls in love with the younger Hathaway sister, sleeps with the older one by mistake and runs off to London to stand for his soon-to-be-imprisoned father in court. There he meets Meg, once a thief, now a tavern maid, who is unusually large for her age. Will is robbed by some of Meg’s old companions, and Meg becomes “Mack,” Meg’s “twin brother,” in order to help him get his money back. If you’ve read Twelfth Night, you can put together a lot of what happens after that. If not … so much confusion ensues.
I’ve mentioned that the beginning was slow, but even more than that, the language used was overwrought. I can tell Klein was trying to use English as Shakespeare and his companions would have spoken it, but it didn’t work for me. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction, and I’ve seen people use older English in ways that isn’t clunky, but this … didn’t work. I was bored and the characters seemed like cartoons from a melodrama instead of people I wanted to relate to. Because of this, I disliked most of the characters from the start, from the overly dramatic Violetta to the overly boisterous Overby and the overly stereotypical faux-villains, who were more like something out of a dark Three Stooges.
The one shining character in all this, who kept me going through the entire book, was Meg. Her ingenuity got her out of a dark hole when her parents died, her loyalty was fierce and her heart was good and righteous at all times. Sometimes, yes, she did feel a little overly righteous, but I was pretty ok with it all most of the time. Her confusion between her identities of Mack and Meg were more than comical–it was serious and it was real. It was her personality and inner struggles that kept me going, even when all the other characters had me ready to put the book down and DNF it.
This also includes Will Shakespeare. As a main character, he was clumsy, naive and bland. He had moments of genius, but those ideas could only work if Meg was right there, pushing them along. I understand that Meg and Will’s friendship was the main point of this book, but it started seeming like Will was incapable of doing anything unless Meg was secretly pushing it from behind.
All in all, I was not impressed by this book. I thought the plot was crazy and overdone–and in the end got so confusing I wasn’t sure how it even worked out. The characters were mostly irksome, except for the one shining light that was Meg. If you’re a real lover of Twelfth Night, then this might interest you out of parody’s sake, but otherwise I’d suggest getting this one for the library if you’re at all interested.