Quick Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Time for a random book review! I’ve read several good books already in 2018, so I’ll start my reviews with the latest from Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is well known for his Sharpe series as well as Uthred in the Saxon Stories. Though still historical fiction, Fools and Mortals is a bit of a departure from his normal writing. Here, Cornwell gives us a behind the scenes look at Shakespeare and his company as they attempt to make a living putting on plays during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. 

Richard Shakespeare is a struggling actor, overshadowed by his older brother William. Richard is approached about stealing a manuscript from his brother (original plays are quite valuable). Since William refuses to give Richard any manly parts in his plays (Richard is quite good at playing the parts of women), this is tempting for him on several levels.

Having just learned about the page 69 test (https://killzoneblog.com/2018/03/have-you-ever-tried-the-page-69-test.html), let me read to you from page 69 and you can decide if this book is for you.

“I thought he would say more, but he went back to his writing. A red kite sailed past the window and settled on the ridge of a nearby tiled roof. I watched the bird, but it did not move. My brother’s quill scratched. ‘What are you writing?’ I asked.

‘A letter.’

‘So the new play is finished?’ I asked.

‘You heard as much from Lord Hunsdon.’ Scratch scratch.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?’

‘Your memory works. Good.’

‘In which I’ll play a man?’ I asked suspiciously.

His answer was to sigh again, then look through a heap of paper to find one sheet, which he wordlessly passed to me. Then he started writing again.”

Does this excerpt from page 69 intrigue you? Since this book started a little slow for me, maybe this would have been a better place to start–but, no, I believe the beginning was necessary.

You can listen (or read) an interview from Cornwell done by the Folger Shakespeare Library on the writing of this book.

https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/bernard-cornwell-fools-and-mortals

Cornwell does not seem to have any plans to turn this into a series, but I, for one, would be glad to read more of Richard Shakespeare if he should changest his mind.

 

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First Lines

In editing and rewriting, I have struggled with those first lines. The first line on the first page is probably the most important as you are trying to reel readers in, but even the first line of succeeding chapters have a place of importance, and it seems to take me awhile to warm up to my subject or my scene. I am now going through several books and writing down their first lines. These lines are not necessarily famous or even great. In fact, most are so simple, I wonder if I am just trying too hard.

“Joshua Poldark died in March 1783.” Winston Graham in Ross Poldark

“The treasure of Hookton was stolen on Easter morning 1342.” Bernard Cornwell in The Archer’s Tale

“Roger woke and shot upright on a gulp of breath.” Elizabeth Chadwick in The Time of Singing

“A cold wind blew down from the snow-covered mountains, hissing through the narrow streets of Thebe Under Plakos.” David Gemmell in Troy Shield of Thunder

“Weeks had gone by since winter had lost her blinding white beauty.” Ginger Garrett in Wolves Among Us. (For those who say not to start with weather, these last two are rather beautiful to me.)

“Elizabeth Middleton, twenty-nine years old and unmarried, overly educated and excessively rational, knowing right from wrong and fancy from fact, woke in a nest of marten and fox pelts to the sight of an eagle circling overhead, and saw at once it could not be far to Paradise.” Sara Donati in Into the Wilderness  (Now, there’s a sentence! Excuse me, while I pause to reread this book.)

“In 1959 Florence Green occasionally passed a night when she was not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not.” Penelope Fitzgerald in The Bookshop

“On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” Anthony Maara in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“At dusk they pour from the sky.” Anthony Doerr in All the Light We Cannot See

“Now I believe they will leave me alone.” Wallace Stegner in Angle of Repose

This is rather fun, and I could keep going, but I have also found this exercise inspiring, so I need to cut this off and go read. I mean, write.