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The Review Man

Formerly of Goodreads, now of both words, in the coming times only here?

Currently reading

Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
Margaret Atwood
Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals
Robert M. Pirsig
Simulacra and Simulation (The Body, In Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism)
Jean Baudrillard, Sheila Faria Glaser
Leaven of Malice
Robertson Davies
The Salterton Trilogy
Robertson Davies
Effi Briest (Penguin Classics)
Theodor Fontane
Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World
Nicholas Ostler
Cases And Materials On The Law Of Torts
Robert M. Solomon
Public Law : Cases Materials and Commentary
Philip Bryden, Craik, Neil, Craig Forcese, Forcese, Craig
A Property Law Reader
Bruce H. Ziff
King of Shadows - Susan Cooper SPOILERS ON THE HORIZON

There's an unfortunate lack of comprehensive one-star reviews of King of Shadows on Goodreads, something I hope this review will remedy.

In King of Shadows, Susan Cooper riffs off the legend of the only British playwright people seem to know anything about, William Shakespeare. We're first introduced to promising teen actor Nat Field, who's travelling with his troupe for a Shakespeare performance in the modern-day Globe Theatre. Ah, how original. Apparently Mme. Cooper attended her Grade 9 English class—where else is the Globe worth talking about for an entire year? However, destiny has other ideas. In fact, destiny plucks him from his trip and plunks him down in Elizabethan England, switching him with the 17th-century version of Nat Field. What is this, Trading Places? The Prince and the Pauper: Time-Travel Edition?

Oh, but if the plot sounds stale, hackneyed or overdone, don't worry; destiny switched the two Nats for a reason. Apparently 17th-century Nat Field is suffering from a particularly bad case of the Bubonic Plague; since present-day England can treat the Plague, why not have the author... err, destiny switch their places? And there's an added Literary Bonus: if destiny doesn't swap Nats, Infected Nat will undoubtedly infect William Shakespeare himself, leading to that playwright's untimely death! And Normal Nat gets a big emotional power surge too because he can chum with The Bard and get over his Oedipal daddy issues. Pass me the Kleenex.

The logical inconsistencies here are about as big as the Grand Canyon. Last time I checked, William Shakespeare didn't die of the Plague. There was never any danger of 1600s Nat Field infecting him in the first place. So why does destiny make the switch? Because he/she hasn't caught up on Stephen Hawking's writings on time travel?

Speaking of, "Destiny" is such a poor stand-in for "author" that you really have to wonder why Susan Cooper even bothered. Why include time travel for no ostensible reason? I know it's the entire mechanism behind the plot, but it's been done a million times already (and almost never competently, I might add). The sappy faux-psychological closure at the end is exactly the sort of emotional reaction one would expect from a teenaged 'actor' who fancies himself the Next Big Thing in theatre, which is to say that it's amateurish and inexpertly written. And Cooper subtly snubs the Elizabethans by treating Infected Nat in present-day England. Can't you hear Cooper muttering: "People in the Dark Ages were so stupid! I'll totally tell them off with this kids' fiction novel!"

Not to mention that King of Shadows' protagonist's name sounds like 'gnat'. Yep, Gnat Field.

Well, if you're into sappy stories about 'artists' overcoming their emotional issues or adventures with completely pointless time travel, you might enjoy King of Shadows. Or you could always, you know, read Shakespeare's actual works. I certainly don't need Destiny to help me make that choice.