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King of Shadows

by Susan Cooper
192 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Dearheart

Not Christian, but a great way to ease your Shakespeare-phobic teenager into the subject.

Plot

Only in the world of the theater can Nat Field find an escape from the tragedies that have shadowed his young life. So he is thrilled when he is chosen to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in a new replica of the famous Globe theater.

Shortly after arriving in England, Nat goes to bed ill and awakens transported back in time four hundred years - to another London, and another production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Amid the bustle and excitement of an Elizabethan theatrical production, Nat finds the warm, nurturing father figure missing from his life - in none other than William Shakespeare himself. Does Nat have to remain trapped in the past forever, or give up the friendship he's so longed for in his own time?

Morality

I can't exactly say there's any immorality in this book...but don't go looking for sound theology or super-strong moral values in it, either. Though Right and Wrong are a given, this is definitely a secular book and the morality is a bit on the weak side.

However, there are some beautiful and interesting themes in the story. Compassion, trust, respect, hard work, returning evil with good and dealing with grief are all things that Nat learns and experiences. One particularly poignant scene is when Shakespeare talks to him about how love "is an ever-fixed mark"; that real, genuine love can never be destroyed. That's a rare and precious thing in today's culture.

Spiritual Content

I don't think there's any magic or spiritual stuff involved, though exactly how Nat was transported back in time remains a mystery. And while he discusses it with his friends towards the end of the book, wondering why and how it happened, one of them shrugs and suggests, "Time. God. Fate. It depends on what you believe in." However, it is made very clear that the whole thing was no accident. Something - or Someone - did it for a purpose.

Violence

Though not overly graphic, Susan Cooper doesn't sugarcoat things much when it comes to life's harshness - both in Nat's time and in Shakespeare's. Nat witnesses both the wonder and the horror of Elizabethan times: The heads of the executed stuck on tall poles, filth, disease and disfigured beggars in the streets.

His rival, an arrogant, mean-spirited actor named Roper, picks fights with him and things threaten to get dangerous before someone intervenes. A couple of boys (one of them being Roper) take him on a last-minute visit to a bear pit during their free time and a fight scene between the bear and a pit-bull follows. This brings back terrible memories for Nat: memories of his father's death, which he talks about later with Shakespeare. And shortly before Shakespeare and the others begin the first performance, a drunk captures a pick-pocket, ties the boy to a pillar on the stage and presses a dagger to his throat. (Shakespeare saves the day before things get too ugly.)

Drug and Alcohol Content

While Nat's stuck in the past, one of the only things to drink is weak ale, beer, etc. Everyone drinks it regularly, mainly because plain water back then wasn't very safe to drink. Drunks are mentioned here and there, and one drunk man causes a small ruckus at one point in the book.

Sexual Content

While making his way through a crowded street, Nat sees a filthy beggar girl with her dress torn open. (Nothing graphic is mentioned.) Roper teases him about being "little lass" and the boys traditionally play the women's parts in "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

Crude or Profane Language or Content

There's not too much language, though there are certain characters who swear sometimes. "Sh-t", "cr-p" and "d-mn" are used, plus the occasional "god".

Conclusion

This book is vividly and beautifully written. Susan Cooper does an amazing job at bringing Shakespeare's world to life and keeping things authentic to the time period. This is a great way to kindle an interest in his work and his life. The characters are people you care about, and the relationship that develops between Nat and Shakespeare is beautiful to see.

However, this isn't for the little ones; and it's still a secular book. As I said before, don't look to it for outstanding examples of strong theology and Christian values.

Be cautious without overdoing it, and you'll enjoy it as a tale that captures your imagination and takes you on a journey you won't forget.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 3.5
Written for Age: 11-12

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This review is brought to you by Dearheart.
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