Three very different sisters vie for their father’s crown in this fantasy inspired by King Lear.
It’s a setup familiar to anyone who knows their Shakespeare: An aging king gathers his three daughters and asks them each to describe their love for him and prove they are deserving of inheriting his crown. The two eldest, here called Gaela and Regan, are happy to comply. The youngest, and his favorite—here called Elia—refuses and is disinherited. As the king descends into madness, Gaela and Regan, along with their respective husbands, scheme to ensure that the crown passes to the person they’ve agreed should have it: Gaela, with Regan beside her. But Elia, who lacks her sisters’ bloodthirsty ambition, fears she may have to take a stand to save her home before her sisters tear it apart. Gratton, making her adult debut, stays true to much of the play while building past it to create an inventive universe full of ancient magic and prophetic stars. Her writing is atmospheric, staying just shy of florid. The racial diversity is a welcome sight in the genre, as is an epic tale full of such dynamic women. And yet, as the page count pushes past 500, it’s hard not to feel that the action drags. Scenes of political intrigue become repetitious, and the final plot points feel mired in lyrical imagery by the time they finally arrive.
Gratton achieves the rare feat of a Shakespeare adaptation that earns the right to exist, but it's possible to have too much of a good thing.