John Shakespeare: Prince by Rory Clements

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John Shakespeare: Prince by Rory Clements

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: This is the third book in the series and Clements has improved each time: we're now seeing much improved ployts and character handling. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: May 2011
Publisher: John Murray Publishers
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978 - 1848544253

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This is the third in the excellent Elizabethan murder mystery series, featuring John Shakespeare, brother of Will. An inexplicable murder is linked to a much deeper plot of political dimensions, leading Shakespeare into danger and tragedy. A series of bombings, which appear to be targeting the immigrant population causes huge unrest and fear, and leads to the uncovering of further political dimensions.

Clements' work is improving with each subsequent novel: the first two were good reads, but with this, we see a flourishing and development both in his handling of the plot (which becomes more complex), and characters, in whom we see more emotional and psychological depth. In this latest offering we are treated to the intriguing tale of the systematic targeting of the Dutch immigrant population by dissatisfied apprentices who see their employment prospects threatened. Several mysterious and shadowy characters populate this world - and there is more to them than meets the eye!

This forms one of the main strands of the plot, and is developed very well. The fear and resentment which the apprentices feel, the way in which they manage to band together in an attempt to protect their jobs and their families, gives an interesting insight into the difficulties and challenges of life at the time - and which in fact bears some relevance for this day and age!

There is a wider, even more intriguing, political aspect to the plot - about which I feel I should give no hint, as there is no indication of this in the summary appearing on the dust jacket. In some respects, this is an even more exciting strand - and one which the author could have developed as a separate novel, as there was such depth and potential to do so. The final twist to this sub strand was a complete surprise - a wonderful and imaginative addition to the overall immigrant plot. In some respects, I found the political angle even more exciting - it certainly confirms Clements' ability to surprise and intrigue.

Tragedy of huge proportion strikes Shakespeare early in the novel. At the outset we are given some tantalising insights into Shakespeare's personal and family life - a happy and well rounded household, with Shakespeare showing himself to be a devoted father and husband - and enlightened, supportive and generous employer. However, when tragedy strikes, it shakes the family and community to the core. I suspect that in subsequent novels we may see the protagonist become hardened and embittered due to the events unfolded - not to any great extent, but perhaps enough to add in an additional emotional level - the small, but significant kindnesses he regularly shows (sending ale to those awaiting execution, for example), may become a thing of the past. One would hope not to any great extent, but there is great potential here for significant and moving character development - and I'm confident that Clements won't disappoint.

One of the huge pleasures in the novel, is the gradual emergence of Shakespeare's servant, Boltfoot Cooper. They form a great duo - reminiscent of some of the detective duos in this century. Cooper is a wonderful creation - a strong and loyal servant and helper, who suffers hugely rather than betray his master. A devoted family man, he has much in common with his master and this relationship is yet another of the joys of the novel. Looking forward too, to learning more about the intriguing Mr Cooper's past.

Underlying all this, we also have insights into the seedier side of Elizabethan life . The obnoxious and horrendous torturer (Richard Topcliffe) and his entourage introduce an element of fear and disgust. However, justice of a kind, comes his way - which once again, gives the author potential for subsequent character development, as Topcliffe appears to be a dangerous and powerful enemy.

The famous Will makes an appearance - rather superfluous to the overall plot, but it introduced a little fun, and was necessary to round off the literary aspect of the novel. A little information was given as to their shared childhood - it didn't add much to the plot nor the characters, but was an interesting strategy nonetheless. At the start of the series, I assumed that this relationship would be central in some way - but John Shakespeare would be an excellent protagonist, with or without his famous brother, so I'm really not sure if this aspect will quietly fade away in subsequent novels, as so far it is adding very little. The other real characters - from monarch through to her officers - are given much more depth - so perhaps Will will feature in a more central role in due course.

Once again, Clements has given us a wonderfully graphic and descriptive novel. The squalor of the city, the developing countryside, and the extravagance of the Court, are all well depicted, and give the reader a good understanding of life in these times. Indeed, it is good to read of the seedier side of life as opposed to the penchant certain comparable authors have focusing on courtly life, to the exclusion of all other aspects. A good level of background history is given, so even the most unknowledgeable of readers can quickly understand and appreciate the time in which it is set.

I can highly commend this series for all these reasons - but would suggest starting at the beginning with the first one (Martyr). Whether your preference is for historical or murder mystery, there is plenty to be found which will please the reader, and Clements richly deserves the accolade on the cover:

Real quality… faster moving than C.J Sansom

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Recommended reading: anything by C J Sansom.

Buy John Shakespeare: Prince by Rory Clements at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy John Shakespeare: Prince by Rory Clements at

Buy John Shakespeare: Prince by Rory Clements at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy John Shakespeare: Prince by Rory Clements at


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