Book review: ‘Ruled Britannia’ by Harry Turtledove.

English: The "Darnley Portrait" of E...

English: The “Darnley Portrait” of Elizabeth I of England, oil on panel, 113 x 78.7 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 2082). Probably painted from life, this portrait is the source of the face pattern called “The Mask of Youth” which would be used for authorized portraits of Elizabeth for decades to come (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing I’ve noticed about Harry Turtledove is that his mind-blowingly brilliant ideas and concepts are often let down by clunky delivery and wooden dialogue.  Not so in this case.  However, my one real gripe does concern Turtledove’s attempt to weave Shakespearean style language into the book.  The problem here is that he isn’t always consistent and that jars somewhat.  With that proviso, this is an exciting and absorbing story and one full of indications that Turtledove has done his background research on Elizabethan England in general and the atmosphere of late sixteenth century London in particular.

The action opens in 1598, ten years after the Duke of Parma‘s army successfully landed on the English coast and advanced on London.  England has been brought forcibly back into the papal fold and the forces of the Inquisition are freely used against dissenters both religious and political.  In fact in practice there is no difference between the two.  Queen Elizabeth languishes in the Tower of London and Warwickshire playwright Will Shakespeare finds himself caught on the horns of the mother of all dilemmas.  On the one hand the Spanish authorities want him to write a play that will reconcile the English to Spanish rule, on the other the English Resistance want him to write a play that will inspire rebellion.

It will take all of Will Shakespeare’s writing skill to do both things with the same piece of writing.  A good solid four out of five stars…


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