I am a big fan of Bernard Cornwell. His Uhtred makes my list of literary boyfriends. The book Uhtred. Not whatever abomination they have cast in the television show. I don't know who that guy is but he's not Uhtred. Anyway.........I am also a big fan of historical fiction set in Tudor England. When I heard one of my favorite authors was writing a book about one of my favorite time periods? I was immediately sold.
It was purely coincidental that I read this book on the heels of reading another book featuring a Shakespeare brother. However, the Shakespeare brother in Cornwell's novel is an actual historical figure. There is a birth record for a child named Richard Shakespeare born after William. John Shakespeare of the the Rory Clements' novels is not listed anywhere as a brother to William.
Fools and Mortals centers around Shakespeare's first performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Richard is a member of his brother's theater company, the Sharers. The relationship between the two brothers is far from close. Richard needs money and William is a means for Richard to earn money while doing something he likes (and by all accounts seems to be good at). While the company has found royal favor through their employer, Lord Hunsdon, they are never completely safe from the Percies who are charged with keeping London "moral". By moral, I mean, not Catholic. One of Willam's manuscripts goes missing and chaos follows.
If you read the book's blurb and pick this novel up expecting some deep, twisting mystery, you are going to find yourself disappointed. While there is a missing manuscript that needs finding, the reader immediately knows who took it. To classify this novel as a mystery is a stretch in my opinion. The manuscript doesn't actually go missing until the book is over half finished. The mystery is quickly solved. The bigger focus of this story is the process. How did the theater work in Elizabethan England? What did actors do? How did Shakespeare work? What was life like in London? All of these questions are answered as only Cornwell can do. My biggest problems with novels of this sort generally tend to be issues with setting the scene. An author will completely immerse their reader in Elizabethan London and then BAM! Something horribly out of place and anachronistic comes along to spoil the whole story. Not once did I get that feeling during this novel. Cornwell creates an authentic atmosphere. Not once does the reader feel like something is out of place. The manner in which his character speak and act flows with the addition of the lines from Shakespeare's works. It is wonderfully done. For that reason, I highly recommend this book. The setting, not the characters or the mystery, is the real star here.
I would love to see more of this time period from Cornwell.