Published by Penguin Australia on January 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
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In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and—if they survive—marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.
Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona—and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona…
…And will rewrite all their fates, forever.
Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, especially with it being on the high school English curriculum in many schools and since the release of the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes in 1996. The tragic tale involves two wealthy families in renaissance Verona, Italy, and the long-standing feud between them. Two teenagers, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, fall in love at first sight and conduct a forbidden love affair, all ending in tragedy as the war between the houses spirals out of control. Prince of Shadows is a retelling of that story, with a few embellishments.
As a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, the basics of the storyline are already well-known, but what makes Prince of Shadows interesting is that it is told from the point of view of Benvolio Montague, Romeo’s cousin. Romeo and Juliet’s story is only a small part of a much wider game here – involving curses, evil grandmothers and a much more detailed overview of the Montague vs Capulet drama.
The fact that there is so much extra story added means that the story felt quite slow at times, even though there was a fair bit of action early on. It’s 25% in before we even get to the “Do you bite you thumb at us, sir?” scene between Capulet and Montague parties at the start of the original play. While the extra parts to the story make it such a well-written tale, the links to the original story are fairly spaced out.
The dialogue and storytelling is in a classical but accessible style. There are occasional iambic pentameter snippets as actual dialogue from the play appears, but for the most part the play is retold in more realistic (or perhaps more modern) words.
One of the best parts of this retelling is the light shed on the roles of women in high society in this time period – they were mostly there to create alliances between wealthy families and essentially treated as little more than chattels. If their virtue was compromised before their wedding (which was hardly ever for love), a convenient fatal accident could be arranged, or a sudden new calling to a convent. It was a difficult existence and bred some tough, ruthless women. No less difficult was the plight of homosexuals, and this story also shows the harsh realities of the bigoted views of the time.
I found Prince of Shadows to be a surprisingly detailed and well-written retelling of an already well-known story. Die-hard Shakespearean scholars may not find it as perfect as they might like but it should appeal to anyone who enjoys a historical drama dealing with love, loyalty and loss.
– An very well-written and enjoyable retelling, although the additions to the story held it up in places.