Monday, February 20, 2012

Shakespeare Undead, by Lori Handeland

Today was a stat-holiday in Ontario.  I wanted my paid day off to be fun and pressure free, so I turned to a book a recently picked up that I didn’t expect to be overly engaging, but would rather be a bit of literary junk food.  My choice this morning was Shakespeare Undead, but Lori Handeland.  It was everything I was expecting, and then some!

Handeland’s story is all about the legend that is William Shakespeare.  So many people ask how the Bard was so prolific during his life time, where his ideas came from, and what he was really like.  Handeland’s tale enlightens us: in reality, Shakespeare (or, rather the being that took the name Will Shakespeare from a mugging victim) is a centuries-old vampire.  Before he was turned, Will was a necromancer – one who communed with the dead.  The result is that, when we meet him in 1592, Will has a popular reputation for being a brilliant writer and actor, whose works seem divinely inspired, but in reality, are stories given to him by the ghosts who visit and want their tales told.  I like odd-ball history, and Handeland delivers.

The main story around which the book revolves is the growing relationship between Will (who likes to hunt zombies in his down-time), and Katherine (who was trained to hunt zombies by her voodoo-priestess nanny as a child).  The relationship between Will and Kate (and, if you check the copyright date on this sucker, I’ve got to believe the Royal Wedding inspired Kate’s name selection) is intense and passionate, but is shadowed by the secrets Will feels he must keep from Kate, and the zombie menace that is haunting Elizabethan London.  It’s almost like Twilight in some ways, but less nauseating and more refined.  Propos to Handeland for that.  And it’s a lot like the flick Shakespeare in Love.  But with zombies.  So it’s different enough.  

This book is a quick read.  Handeland’s pacing is marvelous.  While her chapters are short, there is a seamless transition between them that makes you want to keep reading.  There are some minor pacing issues closer to the end, however.  It seems that in an effort to flesh out the growing relationship between Will and Kate, Handeland sacrificed the plot development nearer the end; it’s almost as if she jumps from point A to point C, while blowing by point B.  However, as both points A and C are clever, well written and enjoyable, it’s not a real hardship.

What really makes this work shine is the ingrained sense of humour buried in the story.  Will, a master of words, is quick, clever and a bit of a smart-ass.  Kate is even quicker, more clever, and a full-blown smart ass.  They make a great pair.  Those with a passing knowledge of Shakespeare’s works will recognize the inspirations for his plays Othello and Romeo and Juliette in Handeland’s narrative; they’ll recognize characters from history like Kit Marlowe; and they’ll recognize characters from his plays like Juliette’s Nurse.  Even more comical is the passing inspirations that come to Shakespeare that only the modern reader would recognize – at one point, Will laments ‘seeing dead people,’ at another point, Kit assures him that “You’re our only hope, Will Shakespeare.”  Handeland weaves the past and present together is comedy, tragedy, and a brilliant mix of the two.

This book has everything you’d need – love, danger, and zombies.  I’m extremely glad I picked it up and spent my morning reading it.  I’ll be checking out Handeland’s other works shortly, and am sure I’ll be adding her to my rotation of regular authors.  Final verdict?  Read Shakespeare Undead!  It’s great! 

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