William Shakespeare: poet and playa.
Orphaned as a child and widowed as a young woman, Katharine de L’Isle has rejected every attempt to secure her another husband. She’s happy enough on her uncle’s estate, largely because she has free access to his library. But life is precarious for Catholic aristocrats in Elizabeth’s England, and the de L’Isle household is thrown into disarray when Sir Edward is forced to flee the country. Katharine’s peaceful existence is further unsettled by the arrival of a new schoolmaster. This William Shakespeare clearly knows no Greek, nor much Latin—and neither does he know his place. Katharine finds the man’s flirtations both infuriating and exhilarating, and thus, first-time novelist Chapin sets the stage for a smart and charming work of historical fiction. Using blank spaces in Shakespeare’s biography and the facts of his oeuvre, Chapin makes her heroine co-creator of “Venus and Adonis.” Katharine and Will enjoy some truly delightful banter, as well as some intensely sensual moments, but this Shakespeare is, ultimately, a sort of emotional vampire. He requires adoration, and he uses women—many women—as raw material for his art. This is an audacious move, but Chapin makes it real, and the scenes in which Katharine defends Will to her doubting lady friends will ring true to any woman who has ever uttered the words, “You just don’t understand him!” There’s some mystery business involving a murdered priest that Chapin seems to forget about until she wraps it up in a few sentences at the end, but that was never the most interesting thing about this novel anyway, so readers are unlikely to care.
An elegant entertainment and an impressive debut.