King of Shadows
by Susan Cooper
Age: 9 +
Interests: theatre, Shakespeare, history, English history, time travel, mystery
Simon & Schuster: 1999
Also by this author: The Dark is Rising series (Over Sea Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on the Tree), Seaward, The Boggart, Green Boy, Ghost Hawk
Nat is the member of a boys’ theatre company travelling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the reconstructed Globe Theatre. Arriving in London, Nat falls ill and the next morning awakes to find he has travelled back in time to 1599, switching places with another boy named Nat. Not only that, but modern-Nat must now perform his rehearsed role of Puck in the original Globe Theatre, under the direction of William Shakespeare himself!
Various aspects of Elizabethan life are vividly highlighted in this novel – from the lack of hygiene and the practice of dumping one’s chamber pot directly out the window into the street, to the sights, sounds, and violence of London streets, to the business practices of theatre companies and the political intrigue of the period. The performance that Nat is practicing for is an important one, as Queen Elizabeth herself may be in attendance and Shakespeare is eager to please the monarch. Nat enjoys his new life and his friendship with the playwright so much that when he is whisked back to his own time after the performance he is not relieved but distraught. One mystery remains to be solved: why was he drawn into the time switch in the first place? What purpose did it serve?
This is a well-written and effective portrait of Elizabethan London and the early history of the stage. Nat’s backstory (his father committed suicide and Nat was the one who found him) gives the tale added resonance.
This good-humoured romp through Shakespeare will resonate with readers who already love the bard and his work, or it may hook those who do not. Enough of the plot and details of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are given to prompt further interest in that play and others.