Image of roses and a bee. Text says "New York Times Bestselling Author Before Romeo loved Juliet, he loved FAIR ROSALINE Natasha Solomons A Novel." Cover blurb says "'Irresistible. An Excellent spin on a timeless classic.'–Jennifer Saint, Sunday Times bestselling author of Ariadne"

Fair Rosaline

FAIR ROSALINE rating: 4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.

In FAIR ROSALINE by Natasha Solomons (Sourcebooks Landmark, September 12, 2023), a retelling of Shakespeare’s play THE TRAGEDY OF ROMEO AND JULIET, this ain’t Franco Zeffrelli’s Romeo, not that I liked him that much either. At least the 1968 movie Romeo looked the same age as Juliet. In fact, they were so young that the actors filed a lawsuit alleging abuse for the nudity in the film, which was dismissed.

This Romeo, though? Ugh. A pox, a plague, a pustulent putrefaction upon him and his flowery speeches. Solomons blends the Shakespearean language nicely with the style and tone of the novel so that it doesn’t seem out of place at all, except when Romeo is talking, when it seems just ridiculous–adding to the strength of the characterization.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for sending me a copy of this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Rosaline is willful and energetic and loves the outdoors, which is not what Verona requires of a young noblewoman. After falling for Romeo, Rosaline figures out that he is an unspeakably wicked predator who prefers young girls. However, the rot of corruption goes even deeper in the ruling powers of Verona, and Rosaline is determined to uncover the truth, and protect her cousin Juliet. The fact that Rosaline is about to be shipped off to the nearest nunnery by her hard-hearted father makes her vulnerable, which Romeo exploits.

Despite being pretty enraged about the story most of the time, I couldn’t put FAIR ROSALINE down, even far past my bedtime.

A hint of mystery and the need for Rosaline to play detective makes this retelling even more entertaining. While adding many elements to the Shakespearean tragedy, Solomons does not diverge from Shakespeare’s plot until the very end, and I loved how she did it. Very clever!

Reading context:

I’ve always romanticized abbeys, nuns, and the cloistered life. I think this is mostly down to Rumer Godden, with novels like FIVE FOR SORROW, TEN FOR JOY (1979) and IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE (1969). More recently, MATRIX by Lauren Groff (Penguin Random House, 2021) made the abbey of Marie de France into what struck me as heaven on earth.

If you want a wider lens on a Shakespeare play, you can’t do better than HAMNET by Maggie O’Farrell (Penguin Random House, 2021), which imagines a framework for how HAMLET may have come to be written. HAG-SEED by Margaret Atwood is a spin on THE TEMPEST that I really enjoyed.

I blogged about my favorite fairy tale retellings in “Thornhedge, and flipped fairytales” on June 1, 2023.

May this retellings craze last forever! I think what started the outpouring of retellings in the last few years was the amazing CIRCE by Madeline Miller (Hachette, 2019).

I recommend these novels for a good mythological mix:

What I’m reading right now:

THE SQUARE OF SEVENS by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (Simon & Schuster, September 5, 2023)

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