Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World by Foz Meadows, Kate Heartfield, Emma Newman, Adrian Tchaikovsy and Jonathan Barnes (Afterword by Dr. John Lavagnino)
With the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death coming up this is the perfect way to start the celebrations… Not celebrating that he died, because that’s sad, but celebrating his and what he produced. It is a collection of five interwoven stories, set in the world of Shakespeare’s works. -It’s the Shakespearian version of Once Upon A Time.- They show the aftermath of the great Bard’s plays, and it seems for most of the characters it wasn’t as happy as they expected.
The Mediterranean world – with a little help from Scotland- has been split in civil war due to the Medici family. Each side uses magic as a new form of warfare which isn’t helped with the addition of fairies and gods. Illyria stands at the centre of it all when Duke Orsino inadvertently offends King Oberon.
Now there are too many characters in these stories for me to get into, it’s almost ridiculous, Shakespeare himself makes an appearance, multiple hims to be exact. The Prologue focuses on Oberon in his court. Its short but you can see Oberon trying to be diplomatic in the war yet there are hints of the rivalry between his own court and his wife’s. It’s a nice nod to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The first story – Coral Bones– is mainly about Miranda and how her life isn’t what she thought it would be. She is brilliant. She’s a smart, independent girl who’s been through too much. She reminds me a bit of Viola from Twelfth Night. I love her relationship with Ariel and how open and accepting she is to gender fluidity. The fact that she tries to shed the naivety that Prospero instilled just added to her character.
I admit I’m not sure who Pomona of the second story – The Course of True Love– is. I don’t recognise her from when I studied Shakespeare. She was really interesting. A practical, loyal old hedge-witch who was taught by Hecate with Sycorax. Vertumus I did recognise, eventually and not by name since I think that’s from one of the poems. He really has grown from the child of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’s a bit of a scholar who still has to deal with Titania’s grudges.
The Unkindest Cut deals with Lucia De Medici and her efforts to save her love and the war. I feel bad for her tbh. In a way she keeps being manipulated. I mean I’m sure her mum doesn’t mean to but she ends up making things worse. In order to save her love she has to confront Prospero, who is ready for death. I like Lucia but she is a bit stubborn and naïve. She goes from trying to protect her future- while trying to do the right thing – then a bit selfish then self sacrificing. It sounds like her character is all over the place but it makes sense as you’re reading. Prospero I just hate –the character, not how he’s written- so not worth talking about.
Even the Cannon’s Mouth doesn’t really have a main character, maybe Parolles – from All’s Well that Ends Well. He’s on a mission to recruit Prospero when he gets shipped wrecked in Illyria – everyone seems to be there. He still a coward and a liar but he tries to make up for it. Macbeth is there too, controlling the witches. He’s a scary, immortal warrior king, who still uses deceptions. My favourite characters of Twelfth Night– Feste and Viola – are there and seem to be the only ones happy with their cannon ending.
The last story – On the Twelfth Night – focuses on Anne Hathaway. Shakespeare appears as well but Anne is the important one here. She is a loyal, passionate woman, who does love her husband and tries not to be hypocritical in her daughter’s relationship.
I loved all but the last story so much. I loved how the different authors interwove their stories with each other’s along with Shakespeare’s play. It was beautifully written. It followed the structure of a five act play with a prologue and the five stories as the acts. Then each story – other than the last – is split into five acts, which you could think of as scenes. Adrian Tchaikovsy’s story – Even the Cannon’s Mouth– goes a step further as each scene starts with a scene set up in italics like most plays do:-
“The garrison at Apollonia,
Soldiers and servants … …
Each character, in all the stories were brilliant and individual. I greatly appreciated the prevalence of my favourite Shakespeare plays – Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There was magic, and politics and love, everything you could want in a story. It was almost a critics wet dream since it explicitly shows what I kept seeing in journal articles, like Prospero lusting for his daughter and that Caliban “was a reflection”. It’s very in keeping with Shakespeare with strong, intelligent heroines, coincidental meetings and gender bending- a few women dressing as men and beings that change their form at will to be either gender.
The only thing I didn’t like was the last story. I didn’t feel it fit in with the other ones since it wasn’t directly about Shakespeare’s plays but his real life. Not even his real life, since most of it is in a parallel universe where Shakespere never went to London and produced all his plays. I’m also not a fan of being directly talked to in a story. I hate being reminded that its not real so lines like “Had you not been born several hundred years before the invention of the movie camera” didn’t appeal to me.
Overall this is an amazing book that is well worth a read. It is beautifully written and brilliant characters that are fun to try and remember what story they are from. This is perfect way to honour Shakespeare 400 years after his death.