Tag Archives: historical novel

Friday Faceoff – Mirror, mirror on the wall… #Brainfluffbookblog


This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week featuring on any of our covers is the word QUEEN. I’ve selected Queen Lucia – Book 1 of the Mapp and Lucia novels by E.F. Benson.


This edition was produced by Wildside Press in August 2003. I think the figure raising the crown to her head is particularly apt, given the content, but the rest of it is just wrong. This book charts the power struggle of two society figures striving to be the arbiter of taste and culture in a small ex-pat community. It’s all about light and brightness – harshly so at times… So why anyone thought a gloomy old offering like this would work is beyond me. They haven’t even got the font right.


Published in February 1984 by Black Swan Books, this cover is far more appropriate. I love this depiction of a key scene in the book which brings out the period detail and I’m pleased to see the font is spot on. My one niggle is that border which cramps the lovely artwork, adding nothing to the period detail or appeal of the cover.


This Spanish edition, published by Impedimenta in September 2011 is beautiful. I love the stylised scene. Whereas the previous cover is crowded with lots going on, this is far more stripped back, featuring the two beautifully dressed women. The detail of the light fitting on the wall adds to the period feel and the colouring and design is sheer class. However the title and author fonts are too small and in the wrong font.


This edition, produced by Harper Perennial in March 1987 has nailed the period feel. We have Her Majesty seated on her throne in all her glory, while the border detail and font are all part of the design and add to the appeal of the cover, rather than feeling like an afterthought. I would have liked that wonderful image to dominate more, though.


This Italian edition has it all. The beautifully dressed woman, with her hand on her hip and dressed to kill, glares out at us, taking no prisoners. The colour scheme is bright and beautiful, the detailing wonderful. Those pillars framing the image are spot on, giving the artwork that 1920s outline. And the title and author text is the right size, right font and in the right place. This is my favourite – but what do you think? Do you agree with me?

Review of The Final Act of Mr Shakespeare by Robert Winder


Robert Winder certainly aims high. Not only does this fictionalised account of William Shakespeare’s final play concentrate on how he managed to create such a fine body of work; a subject that is probably discussed in every school, college and university where Shakespeare’s work is studied – Winder actually produces a five act version of the lost play, Henry VII, written in blank verse…

London, 1613. The Elizabethan golden age is over, replaced by James I’s reign of terror, and William Shakespeare has been orderedfinalactofmrshakespeare out of retirement to write one last play – a flattering treatment of James’ grandfather, Henry VIII. He gathers together his devoted troupe, The King’s Men, and they start work. However, after realising exactly how much Londoners are suffering under James, Shakespeare is driven to create something else – something far more dangerous. Something that he comes to believe will be his best work ever – his searing attack on monarchy in Henry VII is the play that he is proud to leave for posterity…

So – does Winder pull off this ambitious historical novel? First the good news. Winder has clearly rolled up his sleeves and done the necessary exhaustive research – and managed not to make it unduly show. Jacobean London is vividly depicted, complete with the sense of paranoia. All the main characters are well rounded and believable – even if I don’t agree with his take on Shakespeare. At the start of the book, William Shakespeare is portrayed as depressed, middle-aged and written out, feeling ashamed of the political foot-shuffling that produced works such as Richard III. When scooped up and ordered to produce another play by James’ henchman Edward Coke, he feels angry, humiliated and defiantly rebellious.

Hm – not too sure about this. While Elizabethan England may have produced a flowering of English literature with Shakespeare the undoubted pick of the crop, no one should go away with the notion that it was an age of political permissiveness. There was an extensive spy network operating throughout London during Elizabeth’s reign and if your face didn’t fit for whatever reason, you could find yourself whisked off to the Tower and there were no checks and balances to stop you being horribly tortured. Just because England managed to – somehow – survive against the might of the Spanish Armada, the prevailing view in Europe and amongst many informed Englishmen, was that it was just a matter of time before England fell under the control of Spain. The paranoia gripping the capital in the years after the Gunpowder Plot would have – surely – been entirely familiar to Shakespeare.

I also found the cagey, secretive character that Winder depicted lacking both charm and humour. It didn’t help that Winder wrote in limited omniscience, so that we kept sliding out of Shakespeare’s voice and back into Winder’s viewpoint. This hampered my bonding with Shakespeare, which was key to the novel. While I completely agree that he may have not been the rumbustious hell-raiser downing pints with Marlowe that has been formerly characterised, neither do I feel that this double-dealing, grumpy old git who carped about Edward Alleyn’s desire for Constance Donne, would have been capable of engendering the loyalty and affection shown him by The King’s Men. Just why  do they all risk life and limb – literally – to put on this seditious play? There was never a sufficiently pressing reason why these well established, successful folk would commit such a foolhardy act. The Shakespeare that sings off the page in his plays and incomparable poetry, bears no resemblance to the dangerously impetuous misery that stomps through the pages of this book.

As for the play… Having failed to convince me that Shakespeare would have risked his closest friends in such a reckless venture, I was interested to see how his effort to write a Shakespearean masterpiece would stand up. In fact, the blank verse is impressive. No doubt about it – Winder is a gifted chap. And the idea of the story is an intriguing one. There was much in the book that I enjoyed – but I never believed that the creator of King Lear, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet would be so stupidly pigheaded as to plunge himself and the people he cared about into such a dangerous project – all for the sake of posterity.