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Monday, 3 February 2014

Review: Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine


Image from http://www.penguin.com.au

Title: Prince of Shadows
Author: Rachel Caine
Pages: 368
Published date: 29th of Jan by Penguin Books Australia
Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Synopsis (from publisher): 
In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and – if they survive – marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. 



Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.



Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona – and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona . . . 



And will rewrite all their fates, forever..


Review:


Prince of Shadows begins with Benvolio Montague in the midst of a theft, which quickly turns into a meet-cute with Rosaline Capulet, sister of Tybalt and cousin to the ill-fated Juliet. Benvolio is known as the Prince of Shadows, to his close friends and family, and has a penchant for scurrying across the rooftops of Verona to steal jewels from morally murkier characters than he and give to friends, family and the church. He’s the Robin Hood of Verona! We follow Benvolio on his (mis)adventures which turn increasingly dark and dangerous as a curse takes hold of Capulets and Montagues alike.

Whilst Benvolio is setup by Caine to be a likable rogue, I initially found him difficult to fully-embrace with his somewhat muddy moral conscience. He steals at night, kills Capulets and their supporters by day and yet he is also a kind-hearted character who falls easily in love with a girl from a feuding family. I found Bevolio’s indifference to killing and being surrounded by death a bit unpalatable, but perhaps this is more a reflection on the era in which the book it set. It isn’t until later, through Benvolio's kind-hearted treatment and support of his doomed best friend Mercutio, that he won me over.

I’ll admit I found Prince of Shadows difficult to get into in the beginning. Whilst the language is lush, I wondered how a novel could sustain sufficient intrigue following minor Romeo and Juliet characters, when we know the details of the tragic tale so well. Yet it is this knowledge that drives the suspense in Prince of Shadows; whilst we know how Romeo and Juliet’s story ends, we are left to wonder what lies ahead for Benvolio and his forbidden love, Rosaline. And of course, I couldn’t help but hope events would turn out differently for the star-crossed lovers.

The characters of Romeo and Juliet are loosely drawn in Prince of Shadows, however this works well as we already have a detailed impression of them in our minds, either from reading Shakespeare’s play or from watching the numerous adaptations. It is the periphery characters from the famous tale that get the “screen time” in Prince of Shadows, and these characters are well written with dimension and flaws. Prince of Shadows is very clearly Benvolio’s story, not Romeo and Juliet’s, and this gives the tale a feeling of originality. 

The novel’s suggestion that a curse is at work, driving Romeo and Juliet’s desires and actions, might displease some Romeo and Juliet purists. Although, I enjoyed this magical realism take on the well-known story. In fact, I felt Caine could have gone further with this. There are a few moments towards the end of the novel that are more based in the realm of fantasy and I found these scenes most affecting. I wanted more magic woven into this tale, although that’s probably due to my preference for fantasy novels over magical realism.

That said, I thoroughly recommend Prince of Shadows, it’s a fabulously delicious and decadent read. The prose overflows with detail, wit, vim and vigour. Whilst the story takes some time to get into, the suspense really kicks into high gear about halfway through the book and doesn’t let up until the last word. Many thanks to Penguin Books Australia for the early digital access, I look forward to buying a physical copy now that it has been released.

I give Prince of Shadows 4 out of 5 stars.

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