Romeo and Juliet: A Novel by David Hewson

David Hewson, this time without his previous collaborator, A. J. Hartley, has released a third novel in the line that extrapolates and expands upon the plays of William Shakespeare, putting them into their proper time and historical context.  This time around, it’s an era of great upheaval that history would someday call the Italian Renaissance.  The year is 1499.  Christopher Columbus “discovered” a New World across the ocean seven years previous.  The Borgias rule the Papal State in Rome.  The Medici are falling apart in Florence, which will inspire Machiavelli to write his infamous treatise The Prince… a treatise of how to rule with a strong hand, considered common sense practice by most long before it’s ever written down.  There are wars brewing in three directions.  And in Verona… two rival wine merchant families persist in a feud that no one yet remembers the details of how it began.

Even if you’ve never read Shakespeare’s classic play or have never seen it performed, odds are you know the story.  Or so you think.  With the expansion of the story and the world, the characters must likewise grow.  Nearly all of them do just that.  The title characters of Romeo and Juliet are slightly advanced in age a few years from Shakespeare’s version, likely to make things a little less weird for modern readers who don’t understand or accept the customs of the day.  And as the book’s summary proclaims, it doesn’t end quite as one expects.  Even so, this is one satisfying read / listen, one that adds so much historical verisimilitude to the Bard’s play while remaining respectful of it every step of the way.  This is a narrative that explores the nuance of the historical age, the turbulence of an era of transition, and the heart of the characters in a format that allows far more freedom to do so than the Elizabethan stage.

Interested in what you’ve heard so far?  Here’s the catch.  Due to the popularity of the previous two novels in this series, this one is an Audible exclusive, commissioned by the audiobook giant specifically for their members.  It does not exist in print at the time of this review, and I have no idea if it’ll eventually see print.  Interesting, no?  Usually it’s the other way around.  This one crosses a threshold in that regard.  Well, this audiobook enthusiast certainly has no problem with that.  Hooray for the audiobook format!  Come for the story, stay for Richard Armitage’s performance.

5 stars

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