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Ruled Britannica: A Review


“No epilogue here, unless you make it;

If you want your freedom, go and take it.”

It is 1597, nine years after the Spanish armada landed.  England is under the heel of King Phillip, and his daughter Isabella is on the throne. Elizabeth, after being raped, is locked in the tower of London. This is where William Shakespeare comes in.

Shakespeare is hired to produce a play, which will inspire the English to rise up against their oppressors. To complicate things, he is then hired by the Spanish to produce a play praising King Phillip. That is all I wish to go in regarding the plot, as it is simply too good to tell more of. Suffice it to say that Shakespeare has a few narrow escapes, and eventually chooses which play to bit on.

Both works, to Turtledove’s credit, sound like Shakespeare. He actually used quotes from Shakespeare’s works to make the text for the plays, and lines from them are scattered throughout. Shakespeare himself is a very good character; he’s a Catholic, and prefers that over Protestantism, but helps to fight against the dons of his own free will. The antagonist, Lope De Vega, is a Spaniard playwright who serves as a soldier, and is a great admirer of Shakespeare’s work. He actually ends up cast in the role for the Spaniard play, and refuses to believe, despite the warnings, that Shakespeare might commit an act of treason.  And Lope’s… infidelity cause him a great deal of trouble, especially when he decides to get involved in a relationship among the nobility.

But the book’s entire cast is varied. Shakespeare’s fellow boarders are varied; from the man who apprentices to be a beggar to Cicely Sellis, who everyone believes to be a witch. It’s very interesting to see Shakespeare, considered one of the greatest authors of all time, terrified of a witch.

The book’s main problem is that there is frustratingly little information about the rest of Europe. We know the Danes are still free, and the French are still important, but there are conflicting messages about the Dutch.  The ending feels anticlimactic as well; one is left with the feeling that there is more going on than the reader is informed of.

But such quibbles are ultimately unimportant. Ruled Britannia offers not only an insightful look into Elizabethan (Isabellan?) era, and is one of Harry’s best novels yet. If the rest of his books were of this caliber, there would be a great many fewer complaints.

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