Review Blog

Oct 22 2015

King of shadows by Susan Cooper

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Rollercoasters series. Oxford University Press, 2015 (1999). ISBN 9780198328889
(Age: 11+) Highly recommended. Shakespeare, London, Acting. Nat Field an American actor wins a place in the prestigious Company of Boys, which means he is to spend a month in London rehearsing and then putting on a Shakespearean play in the new Globe Theatre. He is excited to meet his fellow actors and the family with whom he is staying. But when he is transported back to London of four hundred years before, he is transfixed by the differences in the city and its inhabitants. Readers will be too, as Susan Cooper builds an image of Shakespeare's London with a meticulous eye for the detail of life four centuries ago. I found myself re-reading paragraphs to wonder at the times, and I was amazed at the ease with which she detailed the theatre scene, the acting, writing and watching of these plays in Southwark. And all done within the context of a mesmerising story, one which will hold readers' attentions to the end. In Elizabethan times, Nat is befriended by Shakespeare himself and is at his side when brought into the presence of Queen Elizabeth herself, after appearing as Puck in Midsummer Night's Dream.
But chapters in the twentieth century have Nat in St Guy's Hospital in London, struck down with the plague, something unheard of in our time. In hospital he is a figure of mystery, given his accent and living habits, redolent of Elizabethan times.
A rivalry with one of the other boy actor has Nat saving his life through a technique for stopping choking used in his own time, and so he is seen as a witch by some of the crew.
All the threads come together in an exciting conclusion to this wonderfully informative and inventive tale.
One of a new OUP series called, Rollercoasters, the books are reprints of exciting and challenging books, ones which OUP supports with teacher notes and resources, encouraging their use in middle school. Classes or individual students reading Shakespeare' Midsummer Night's Dream or his sonnets will have their interest piqued with their inclusion in this story.
Fran Knight

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