Book Review: Merlin's Shakespeare
Updated: Jan 22
Title: Merlin's Shakespeare
Author: Carol Anne Douglas
What's it about?
Beth is a typical, average teen age girl...or is she? It's not her love of Shakespeare that has her wondering, it's the odd things that seem to happen while she's acting in Shakespeare's plays...and things just keep happening! And she loves Shakespeare's works! Then Adam, playing Bottom in A Midsummer's Night Dream, grows actual donkey ears! She couldn't possibly be the cause, could she? Her doubts are only validated when an odd man with a white beard appears who just happens to know how to solve Adam's ear problem, and again when her cast begins turn into trees while performing Macbeth in the school play...that she's directing! And when that crisis, too, is solved by the odd white bearded man who helped save Adam, she no longer has to wonder. Because now she knows!
But Merlin, the white bearded man,(yes! That white bearded man named Merlin!) has not come to give answers, but to enlist her help in a search so great, so magical that even Beth wouldn't dare dream it to be real! How could she say no to traveling back in time, to Shakespearean England and meet Shakespeare himself while befriending actual characters from the bard's timeless plays as fantasy and reality collide, all in an attempt to find a secret play that may or may not exist?
What I thought about it?
This book is a hard one to review, mostly because I'm torn. Normally the scale tips in one direction or another, allowing me to definitively say "I liked it!" or "I didn't like it so much", but this time, that's not the case for the majority of the book. And while, I think Beth and her journey did win me over in the end, it's only by a sliver, for there is almost as much weight on what I didn't like as what I did.
So, let's start with what I didn't like. The first thing that struck me was the writing style. I've said it before, and I'm sure to say it again. I prefer to live and experience the story, not have the story told to me. I want to have enough information that I can clearly see the story unfold rather then "listen" to a "this happened, then this occurred" type of telling. I will be the first to admit that that is only a personal preference, but in this case, I felt like abandoning the telling method for the showing method could have really strengthened the story a lot! I mean, I don't even think we ever learned what Beth looked like! However, I do have to concede that Ms. Douglas did seem to get better with the sharing of the story the further into the story we went.
Another big issue I had was the way information was shared. I get it. As a writer, sometimes you see holes in the story and you have to plug them and I thank you for plugging said holes, but I also don't want to see the plugs either. Now, I know I could be wrong about this fact, but it seemed as if there were times when information was just thrown out there to do just that, plug a hole and I wasn't thrilled about it. For instance, when Merlin explains how his magic works and the limitations involved. Some of that information fit right into the conversation and felt right, while other pieces didn't. They felt like a plug. I agree, these holes needed to be addressed but it might have been done better by seeing it. I would have loved to see some of these limitations tested! It wouldn't have added much more bulk to the story to let Beth find out some these limitations the hard way and it would have been so much fun! The opportunity was there and even substantiated by the fact that Merlin himself said he sometimes forgot what he needed to share and what didn't need to be shared, as Beth was not the first one he enlisted for such a mission.
Then there was the fact that one of my biggest questions, then was never answered. Why are Beth's abilities so specific? In fact, they are oddly specific. Even Beth mentions that fact! I was hoping that that would lead to answers, but instead it was a moment of the characters and the author being self aware of an oddity in the story.
And then there were the grammar and typos that seemed to have been missed. Now, I know no one is perfect and, as someone who types a lot, I can tell some of the mistakes were done in the editing process to better the story. No written work is perfect after all, but there seemed to be a lot of these mistakes and, at times, they were so numerous that it disrupted my reading flow.
But, through grammar errors, visible plugs and a writing style I didn't love, I saw an amazing story! The premise was fun, imaginative and unique. I adore the idea of bringing Shakespeare to a new generation in a fun, modern way that makes the characters created long ago accessible to today's teenager! It's an introduction to a collection of works that is virtually written in a foreign language and often hard to understand and make it come to life and find relevance.
As a fan of Shakespeare, I loved seeing his characters step away from their well known context and roam around their worlds and even weave themselves into the lives of characters from other plays, all interacting freely and playing their part in the great mystery Merlin sent Beth to solve! But even more, I adored the way Ms. Douglas always provided enough information woven in the story, thoughts and conversations to ensure that even those not familiar with Shakespeare's works can understand what was happening and see the significance to it through the lens of the original plays, a tool that even I found myself depending on at times.
And I also have to admit, I didn't see the story ending the way it did. While I had some of the pieces figured out, my suspicions were not as on point as I had thought, allowing for some fun surprises for me, too, which I greatly appreciated.
All in all, the negatives were evened out by the possessives and while I'm not sure I have truly decided who my favorite character was (though I think Mercutio is currently in the lead), and I don't know that I have an absolute favorite part (though the interaction between Romeo and Mercutio the first time they visit Lady Macbeth's castle comes to mind), I can tell you that King Richard III is easily my least favorite character. I can also confirm that I did like the story and I am undeniably glad that I had the opportunity to read it (I'm also curious to see what the second book will bring).
What do I rate it?
I give this book a
3.5 out of
But that's just my thoughts, what are yours? Did you love it? Which character is your favorite?