Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book Review Club: The Shakespeare Stealer

by Gary Blackwood
Middle Grade Fiction

Summary: A young orphan boy is ordered by his master to infiltrate Shakespeare's acting troupe in order to steal the script of "Hamlet," but he discovers instead the meaning of friendship and loyalty.

This is the first book in a trilogy about Widge, an orphan boy from Yorkshire who was apprenticed at the age of seven. His first master, a physician and clergyman who is not above stealing other vicar's sermons, teaches him a form of shorthand called Charactery. After much effort and not a few beatings, Widge becomes proficient at the method and is sent to a different church every Sunday to transcribe the sermons.

When Widge is fourteen, a man named Falconer shows up asking about charactery. After he learns that Widge is the only person proficient at Charactery, he buys Widge's apprenticeship and drags him off to Leister where he meets his new master, the mysterious Simon Bass. Bass sends Widge off to London in the company of Falconer to steal the text of Hamlet. But Widge gets so caught up in the play, he forgets to transcribe parts of it. On a subsequent trip to the theater, Falconer sneaks him inside where he can hear better, but he's spotted and chased. In the process of escaping, he loses his tablet with his play notes. Terrified of Falconer, he returns and is caught. Not wanting to admit his true purpose, he claims he wants to be an actor, too, and is taken into the troupe.

For the first time in his short life, Widge has found friends and a family, but the menacing Falconer lurks without. Widge doesn't want to betray the only people he cares about, but what choice does he have?

This is a terrific historical novel with a sympathetic hero. The period details ring true and the inside look at Shakespeare's world is fascinating. I love the way Blackwood takes Widge from a hapless orphan concerned only with his own survival to a young man struggling with right and wrong. I think boys and girls will both enjoy the book and there's enough action to keep the boys interested.

The two sequels are SHAKESPEARE'S SCRIBE & SHAKESPEARE'S SPY, which I look forward to reading.


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@Barrie Summy