I’ve always thought that Shakespeare’s histories (especially the Henrys) were a bit dull. Sure, they were epic, sweeping tales of kingdoms won and lost, wars fought with sweat and tears and political machinations. But they seemed like one big speech after another with all the really cool stuff (the battles) happening offstage. I never got over the feeling that there was another, more interesting story waiting to be told. Tessa Gratton’s latest novel, a gender-bent retelling of Henry IV, is the story I always wanted. It doesn’t just fill in the exciting missing details or rehash a story already well-known. Lady Hotspur breathes fresh life into its subject matter and creates a tale both familiar and wholly new.
The novel opens at the end of a bloody rebellion that has thrust three young women into the spotlight. The first, Hal, had never planned on being a prince. A member of Aremore’s lady knights, Hal is more at home telling fantastical stories and leading drunken quests than she is playing politics. But when the coup leads to her mother taking the throne, Hal is forced to choose between playing a fool and playing a prince. The second, Lady Hotspur, also has no love of politics. Most comfortable with a sword in hand or on the battlefield, the end of the rebellion sees the Wolf of Aremoria in a place she never expected: falling in love with Prince Hal. The third is Banna Mora, the heir to the now-deposed king. Disgusted by the idea of the intemperate Hal ruling Aremoria, Banna Mora flees to Innis Lear to rebuild her strength and fight to reclaim the throne is rightfully hers, setting off a slow-burning rebellion that will force Hotspur to choose between love for family and love for Hal. Together, the three women hold not just their own fate, but the fate of Aremoria between them as well.
Although set in the same world as Gratton’s previous Shakespearean adaptation, readers don’t need to have read The Queens of Innis Lear in order to enjoy Lady Hotspur. While the book does reference the lives of Elia the Dreamer and her siblings, Lady Hotspur stands on its own. Readers also don’t need to be familiar with the novel’s source material. While the novel does largely follow the events of Henry IV, there will be no great insight gleaned from remembering the intricacies of each Shakespearean scene. What readers do need is patience. At nearly 600 pages, Lady Hotspur is a long and sometimes dense book full of beautiful prose and a labyrinthine plot. But readers who are willing to let the story slowly unravel will be magnificently rewarded by an enchanting, worthy read for lovers of Shakespeare and fantasy alike.