A sequel to The Tempest, with Miranda cast as the heroine, Prospero as the villain, and a Moorish witch as Miranda’s love interest.
A thoughtful novelist might have taken this idea in many interesting directions. She might have tried to match the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s great romance, weaving a tale of spirits and enchantment. She might have cast a hard eye on history, examining the workings of patriarchy and colonialism in her 17th-century Italian setting. She might have probed Miranda’s psychology and that of her father. Or she might have explored a complex and sophisticated civilization through the eyes of an innocent seeing it for the first time. If Duckett intended to do any of those things, her debut novel shows little sign of it. The characters lack depth, and the writing lacks magic. As the story begins, The Tempest is over, and Miranda has returned to her native Milan with her father before setting out for Naples to marry Ferdinand. Nobody seems to like her much in Milan except a witch called Dorothea, who was born in Marrakech but for some reason is working at the ducal palace as a maidservant. Miranda may have fallen for Ferdinand, but that was only because she hadn’t yet set eyes on the likes of Dorothea. (O brave new world!) Prospero storms around making pompous pronouncements and breaking his word: It turns out he never actually ditched his powers or drowned his books, and instead of forgiving his brother, the usurper Antonio, as he promised to do, he keeps him chained in the dungeon. Oppressive mysteries threaten vaguely. Miranda dreams of heaven: “Above her, the sky was endless and blue, a shade almost purpureal, cushioning flocculent clouds in its fathomless depths.” Thankfully, such almost purpureal prose is rare; for the most part Duckett sticks to unobjectionably pedestrian language.
The novel fails to explore its promising premise in any depth. Shakespeare this ain’t.