Miranda and Caliban – Jacqueline Carey

“I awake to the sound of Papa chanting in the outer courtyard.”

Shakespeare’s Tempest more or less starts with the titular storm wrecking the King of Naples and his retinue on the island ruled by the wizard, Prospero. But what of the years before, between the arrival of Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, and the events told in the play? Jacqueline Carey sets out a plausible take on those years, explaining, perhaps, why Miranda is so obedient to her father’s whims, why Caliban’s hatred of his ‘master’ runs so deep, and why the sprite, Ariel, is so pressing about his release from servitude.

With perfect timing, the RSC had broadcast their new version of The Tempest in cinemas not long after I received this ARC. It’s not one of my favourites from The Bard, I must confess – but perhaps that’s why so many feel driven to expand on the story. It seems that of all Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest is one that inspires a great deal of other works. I recently read the most excellent Coral Bones, a story in the Monstrous Little Voices anthology, which deals with the after-events, as does a previous read, Tad Williams’ Caliban’s Hour. This, however, was the first time I’d seen an attempt at a prequel.

The obvious ‘weakness’, then, is that we know exactly how things are going to end (at least, if you know the play at all!). Carey’s strength as a story teller, however, means that the lead up to the events we already know is full of character development and relationship building. She doesn’t change the play, but she does manage to cast a slightly different light on some of the preconceptions about why things played out as they did.

In particular, she manages to take a story in which I liked almost none of the characters – the sole exception, perhaps, being Ariel, who doesn’t get a particularly good deal here, alas – and give at least the titular two far more rounded, full-formed personalities, with chapters alternating between their points of view. Miranda stops being a complete drip; Caliban is not just a two-dimensional villain. Nothing can be done for Propero, of course – he’s still a dick 😉

As much as I enjoyed this book, that known ending does feel slightly unsatisfying, to me at least, after several hundred pages of build up. But then, that is the perfect time to go and grab Monstrous Little Voices! Still, feeling the need for a ‘next chapter’ did slightly lower my rating here. That said, still a lovely read, and you don’t even need to know a thing about The Tempest to enjoy it.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 57 chapters
First published: February 2017
Series: none
Read from 11th-10th February 2017

My rating: 7/10

Monstrous Little Voices – anthology

“The revels in the fairy court of Oberon are, it’s said, less glamorous than those of his wife’s bower, but more wild.”

Subtitled, ‘New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World’, this collection of short novellas takes characters from Shakespeare plays and continues their stories, expanding the world(s) of the Bard. You don’t need to be familiar with the plays, but you’ll undoubtedly get a lot more enjoyment out of this if you are – certainly, the gaps in my own knowledge were shown up in a couple of the tales.

After a brief, scene-setting prologue, we kick off with what turned out to be my favourite, Coral Bones, by Foz Meadows. This picks up with Miranda’s tale after the events told in The Tempest – and, in my opinion, rights a few wrongs done to the character! But that’s a secondary concern to the story, which takes the magical-to-mundane of the play back to the magical – loved it!

I’ve only relatively recently begun familiarising myself with Shakespeare’s work (via the live broadcasts in cinemas) beyond what I was taught at school, so there are still several plays I’m unfamiliar with. These gaps in my knowledge really showed here, with a lot of less-than-familiar (to me) characters. Adrian Tchaichovsky’s story in particular seemed to be trying to cram as many in as possible, and to be honest this didn’t really work for me – if you knew who they all were, that might be different, but I was finding it a little cluttered.

What makes this volume really interesting, I think, is that the stories aren’t entirely stand-alone: that is, they seem to follow on from each other. I’m not sure if this is true (did one author pass their tale to the next?) or if the brief each was given, or the editing, makes it seem that way.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love the idea of taking a body of work and giving it a shared ‘universe’, and then expanding on that. And I really love some of the ‘what happened next’ ideas, especially where they bring the original story more up to date for a modern audience. I’m already looking forward to a reread once I’ve seen a few more of the plays!

Kindle: 240 pages / 5 novellas
First published: 2016
Series: Monstrous Little Voices (1-5)
Read from 31st January – 14 February 2016 (arc from NetGalley)

My rating: 7/10 – really enjoyed it, but none as much as the first story

Macbeth (2015)

By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes…

When showing stage performances of Shakespeare at the cinema became a ‘thing’, one of the first ones I went to see was Kenneth Branagh playing Macbeth – and it was *amazing*. So this movie adaptation had a lot to live up to!

Of course, being a film allows for a lot of additional staging, and it’s used extremely well here: from the wordless opening scenes of the Macbeth couple burying a child – adding such an extra element to the motivations! – to a burning Birnam Wood arriving at Dunsinane as floating ash.

If that last comment doesn’t mean much to you, then it does flag one thing about this movie: I do think prior knowledge of the play will help a great deal, especially towards the end, and in particular because the original Shakespearean text is preserved.

However, even if you don’t know much about ‘The Scottish Play’, there’s still a lot to take from this. The performances are excellent: Michael Fassbender is perfect as the lead, pushed to treachery and murder by prophecy and an overbearing wife, then falling to madness. Marion Cotillard retains her French accent, subtly, adding the outsider element to the role. I do have to say, I’ve never felt so much for Lady Macbeth – the staging, the visuals, really helped me understand the character far more than before.

It’s an unfair comparison, film to stage, but absolutely the added visuals help, not least the amazing scenery of Skye – mists and mud and heather. The banquet scene, where Macbeth sees the ghost of one of his victims, is so huge compared to what can be shown on stage, it’s a whole other layer.

Likewise, the movie format allows for a far greater range in volume from the actors – on stage, the quiet murmuring would be inaudible, and yet it suits the delivery so well. And I should mention the accents – I was quite pleased by the Scottish turns by most of the cast, Fassbender in particular only slipping once that I caught.

Students studying the play have been given a huge gift here, I think: a very watchable and (largely) accessible version of the play, with minimal differences to confuse. Fans of the Bard, or of period drama, or just good stories, will be almost as pleased.

Released: 2nd October 2015
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8.5/10