A reluctant prince is forced to choose among friendship, love, and duty in this epic fantasy retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I.
Set in the same world as Gratton’s earlier Shakespeare fantasy retelling, The Queens of Innis Lear (2018), this new novel is set in the neighboring nation of Aremoria. Shakespeare’s histories are perfectly suited for epic fantasy, what with all the battles and political intrigue, but this homage is also gender-flipped. Prince Hal is a woman, as are her “Lady Knight” friends and her mother, Queen Celeda. The titular Lady Hotspur is a brilliant soldier and commander, and she helps Celeda overthrow the king in the opening chapter. Hal and Hotspur’s friend Banna Mora, the heir to the deposed king, is forced to give her title of “prince” to the new heir, Hal. Hal is uncomfortable with her position of authority and buries herself in partying and her intense romance with Hotspur. Banna Mora secretly plans to take back the throne, eventually teaming up with the prince of Innis Lear. Due to some thorny political issues familiar to anyone who knows the play (or just Googles it) and Hal’s refusal of any princely responsibility, Hotspur eventually comes to side with Banna Mora against Hal, whom she still loves. A few references to the previous novel aside, this book isn’t a sequel, nor does it have the same problems as its predecessor. The strange, magical culture of Innis Lear works much better alongside the more practical culture of Aremoria. Readers turned off by flowery, lyrical writing should look elsewhere, but Gratton maintains a dreamy tone that suits the story nicely. What’s more, she writes in conversation with the bard instead of just copying him, using the play as a starting point for a tale about love, family, and creating space for your own story.
Not for everyone but an impressive feat.