Monday, March 22, 2010

H is for Harper, Karen

For the latest installment (the letter H) of The Alphabet in Historical Fiction which is hosted by the lovely ladies over at Historical Tapestry, I had a hard time figuring out what to read, so I went to my TBR pit and found Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper. I have a number of her historicals in my TBR pit but I never read them before...shame, shame...but I have read her contemporary suspense novels which I enjoy. I didn't know what to expect of her historicals, I have heard great things about them (considering a have number of them) but I was afraid that I wouldn't enjoy them.

Here's the blurb for Mistress Shakespeare:
In Mistress Shakespeare, Elizabethan beauty Anne Whateley reveals intimate details of her dangerous, daring life and her great love, William Shakespeare. As historical records show, Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton is betrothed to Will just days before he is forced to wed the pregnant Anne Hathaway of Shottery. The clandestine Whateley/Shakespeare match is a meeting of hearts and heads that no one—not even Queen Elizabeth or her spymasters—can destroy.

From rural Stratford-upon- Avon to teeming London, the passionate pair struggles to stay solvent and remain safe from Elizabeth I’s campaign to hunt down secret Catholics, of whom Shakespeare is rumored to be a part. Often at odds, always in love, the couple sells Will’s first plays and, as he climbs to theatrical power in Elizabeth’s England, they fend off fierce competition from rival London dramatists, ones as treacherous as they are talented. Persecution and plague, insurrection and inferno, friends and foes, even executions of those they hold dear, bring Anne’s heartrending story to life.

Spanning half a century of Elizabethan and Jacobean history and sweeping from the lowest reaches of society to the royal court, this richly textured novel tells the real story of Shakespeare in love.

I loved the story! I'm amazed that I enjoyed it so much, who would have thought....Let me explain, I enjoy Shakespeare as much as the next person, but during a class I took at University I had to dwell into his history, which there's isn't much, his life and works don't mesh together and there's a lot of historians that believe that Shakespeare the author was a completely different person. And let me say I do not know enough to have an opinion.

But that's the beauty of fiction, and this one really made me like the man, the actor, the poet, and the play write. Don't get me wrong I found him to be selfish, frustrating and often times an idiot, but he was human. He made mistakes and he tried to fix them. He was honorable in his own way. The true star of the book was Anne Whateley. She was a childhood friend, later his love and the one that he truly wanted to marry. She had no choice but to along with his marriage to the other Anne (Hathaway), I could understand her anger and sadness. She had to live with the decisions that were made for her and Will. She was a strong and independent woman in a time that you didn't see it often. She ran her father's business. And she was also a true admirer of Queen Elizabeth. But the one thing she wanted the most was to be recognized as the true Mistress Shakespeare.

Not only were the characters wonderfully written but the setting of the late 1500's and early 1600's London felt real. I'm not an historical expert but I felt like I was truly experiencing London in that era. She gave me a glimpse on how people lived, concerns about family life, property and social standing, and along the way I also experienced the fear of the plague.

Definitely a keeper!

Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper (4.5/5) Historical Fiction; Published: Putnam Adult (2/09); Year of the Historical (3); Alphabet Historical Challenge (8); Books 2010 (34);


Marg said...

I've read some of Karen Harper's historical mysteries, but not any of her straight historical fiction or her contemporary suspense. She definitely writes across a very diverse spectrum!

Rowenna said...

I think I've passed this one up before, never having been too interested in the Bard's personal life. You've convinced me to take a second look!