STARRED REVIEW
January 2018

Brother of the Bard

By Bernard Cornwell
Review by

If you love historical fiction, Shakespeare, Cornwell’s work or all of the above, Fools and Mortals is a must-read. It’s a riveting novel driven by a distinctive voice that’s sure to hook you.

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There’s something audacious about fictionalizing even a portion of the life of William Shakespeare. Bernard Cornwell is well versed in historical writing—he’s perhaps the living king of the genre at this point—but this is Shakespeare we’re talking about. It’s intimidating territory, and not every novelist can do it well.

With his usual knack for detail and characterization, Cornwell plunges fearlessly into Shakespearean England for his latest novel. Fools and Mortals follows Richard, William’s brother, as he longs for a career on the London stage. Loyal to his brother, Richard watches as William rises through the ranks of English theater, even as his own career achieves nothing near the same level of success. This tests his loyalty, and things get worse when a manuscript goes missing, casting suspicion on Richard and threatening the lives of everyone around him.

The first thing readers will notice in Fools and Mortals, as they will in Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom, is the voice. Richard tells his own story, and as crafted by Cornwell’s skilled hands, he tells it beautifully. Right away, there’s a sense of the Shakespearean balance of wit and drama. Just as he did with his series of novels on Alfred the Great, Cornwell places us in proximity to history we know and then brushes greater depth and detail into the personal story he’s trying to convey. Readers will long to hear more from Richard and for more details about Elizabethan stagecraft.

If you love historical fiction, Shakespeare, Cornwell’s work or all of the above, Fools and Mortals is a must-read. It’s a riveting novel driven by a distinctive voice that’s sure to hook you.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Fools and Mortals

Fools and Mortals

By Bernard Cornwell
Harper
ISBN 9780062250872

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