A bizarre object transports a teenager from the late 19th century to a world of Shakespearean magic and mystery in this debut YA novel.
Guided by a clue left by her grandmother, 14-year-old Alda finds a small, bubblelike object that shockingly transfers her from her 19th-century cottage to a pirate ship at sea. Her sudden appearance startles cabin boy Dreng, whom she will meet again in this Shakespearean fantasy that is woven from an atmospheric patchwork of elements from Hamlet (the Danish prince has a cameo as a prisoner on the pirate ship), Macbeth, and, especially, The Tempest. During an encounter with three bony, cackling figures on a fog-shrouded moor, Alda learns that the magical item that has brought her there is called a “cauldron’s bubble” (and that her grandmother may have been a member of this “wayward and weird” witches’ coven). Time shifts as Alda’s multiple strange journeys take her back to her own childhood, to a talking raven in a desolate desert canyon, to Dreng’s storm-tossed ship, and to a “between worlds” place called Netherfeld, where she ages two years with only gradually surfacing memories of what happens there. Thanks to witchy trickery, Alda ends up trapped on the haunted island where the lethal spirits are controlled by Prospero’s enslaved Ariel (depicted as a harpy of mythology). There, Alda’s fate becomes cleverly intertwined with naiads and dryads, a shipwrecked and now grown-up Dreng (who meets the ghost of his murdered father), the malformed and hapless Caliban, and a disturbingly proactive Miranda. Elby intermittently sustains a Bard-like sensibility in this overloaded but inventive story through an informed sprinkling of paraphrased and near quotes from Shakespeare’s plays, occasional puns, brief soliloquies, portentous scenes, and blank verse rhythms. (The witches: “Who is the girl?” / “Not who, what?”/ “A bearer?”/ “A sister?” / “A knower or a seer?”) The ending of this enjoyable tale, the first installment of a trilogy, skillfully telegraphs more mystery and adventures to come. In the upcoming Book 2 (Double, Double Toil), Alda’s odyssey of self-discovery will continue (along with Elby’s mining of further Shakespeare classics).
Despite an inconsistent narrative style, an entertaining and imaginative fantasy inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.