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Every bit as brawling and vigorous as its prequel, The Shakespeare Stealer (1998), this takes young Widge, apprentice actor, on tour with Shakespeare's own Chamberlain's Men, to meet challenges to life and livelihood while unearthing clues to his hidden past. After the threat of plague closes London's theaters, the company sets off to play smaller towns, leaving Widge's friend Sander behind but hiring malicious, talented Salathiel Pavy away from another troupe to help portray the women and children. One by one, Sal begins taking over roles that once were Widge's: welcome relief, at first, as Widge has plenty of other duties, including taking dictation for Will, who has broken an arm in the midst of composing a play tentatively titled Love's Labours Won, to present to the Queen. Soon, however, an unfriendly rivalry develops between the two apprentices. Then, Widge gets a double shock: revisiting the orphanage where he spent his first few years, he learns his mother's name, and ex-soldier Jamie Redshaw steps forward, claiming to be his father. Mixing swordplay and wordplay measure for measure—" 'He may vote as he will . . . for the will of the company outweighs the will of Will, will he or nil he . . . And the weal of the company . . . outweighs the weal of Will as well.' " Blackwood creates a vivid picture of the times, as the company encounters brigands, widespread fear of the plague, and internal dissension. When Redshaw is revealed as the Elizabethan equivalent of a con-man, Widge is forced to make some agonizing choices; he returns to London alone, just in time to see Sander die of plague. Then, screwing his courage to the sticking place, he challenges Sal to an actors' duel, to see who would make the better Helena in the new play, now dubbed All's Well That Ends Well. A first-rate tale, with a strong cast and plenty of insight into stagecraft and the art of acting. (Fiction. 11-13)

ISBN: 0142300667
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Dutton