I was so into reading Still Star-Crossed yesterday that I sort of fell asleep reading it and never got my Tuesday YA up. This book is not in anyway a snorer though. It it beautiful and funny–an incredible tribute to Shakespeare and love stories throughout time.
I found this book recommendation in a YA book chat room on a website, I can’t even remember which one, while on a book crawl over the weekend. Part of my bipolar curse is this fried negative feedback loop where I go on these lost hour book hunts looking for more and more and more until I have lists and Goodread TBRs despite all likelyhood of ever being able to read even a small percentage of them. Still Star-Crossed was love at first sight thing and I swore it would be read straight away.
Melinda Taub’s love of Shakespeare is apparent throughout the book and not only by her expert handling of Shakespearean English but in characterization, reference to characters in other plays of the great playwright, but through her witticism, tribulation and betrayal. To say that Melinda Taub merely cast her hand at Shakespearean fanfic would be akin to saying that great chefs like Emeril Lagasse did little more than a bland attempt than to master cuisine. Her attention to the master playwright’s works and skill to interweave the characters seamlessly takes study and more heart than many creative writers writing fanfic would spend.
This book begins with a beautiful line that sets the tone and the language for the rest of it and I noted it in my Kindle because I found the imagery of it to be so breathtakingly heartbreaking.
“A forthnight and odd days had passed since the flowers of the city’s youth had finished cutting each other down.”
The story begins as the Capulets, Montagues and Verona recover from the deaths of those who died in the play Romeo and Juliet: Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, Mercutio and Paris. Prince Escalus, aware that the peace between the ancient feud between the two houses is nothing more than temporary, is trying to come to some permanent solution that will settle their grudges for all time. His fear is that Verona itself will burn to the ground in the flames of their hatred. His answer is to formalize and publically marry the two families to join them.
Rosaline, the fair beauty of Romeo’s heart, is the heroine of this story and she is not meek–nor is she mild. With the sharp tongue and bright humor of so many of Shakespeare’s female leads Rosaline never makes for a dull moment nor does she stay a well placed jab. Benvolio, who survived the bloodshed that nearly drowned Verona, meets the shrewish slayer of Romeo’s heart and is flesh and blood embodiment of blame to his anger, and Rosaline are like gas and tinder. He is very noble, with a great sense of humor, charismatic and amiable. Add a devilish grin and sly tongue and listen to he and Rosaline are like any other great Shakespearean couple. Quite possibly one of the best frenemy pair I have read in quite sometime and I enjoyed their flaying of one another so much that I would likely read this book again, in a hot minute. I can’t tell you if their rejoinders are better when they mean it or when they to.
There are so many secondary characters that I wouldn’t be able to list them all, but to list a few of the very best might be easiest. Prince Escalus plays a large part in this book. A great deal of liberty is taken with his character, as is needed to move the story a long. He is easily the catalyst and the maker of a great deal of the tribulations of the book and in great Shakespearian form, Melinda Taub, tears his heart in two between his city and his desire so that she can show how his strengths make him weak. The patriarchs, Montague and Capulet, play more the bumbling and ill-controlling iron fists of their families–they are loud and brash which gets them little to nowhere with Rosaline. Friar Lawrence and Juliet’s nurse both are seen once more and played very well in Taub’s characterization. They both are living with the guilt of their actions in aid to Romeo and Juliet and Taub shows you the remains of their shredded souls and hearts making them very real and central people in the lives of their charges, Juliet and Romeo. Rosaline’s sister, Livia is compelling and enjoyable in her troublesome nature. And although not a pivotal character by any means the gravedigger that Rosaline and Benvolio speak to in the Verona graveyard is possibly my favorite character. He is a fresh embodiment of Yorick of Hamlet but with a happier and cheerful tongue. One of my more favorite quotes:
“Marry”–the man beamed–“does not the poet live through the patronage of great nobles, who do commission him to write sonnets to their beauty and wisdom? Does not the painter earn his bread through flattering portraits of lords and ladies? Well in Verona, those who practice the grave arts have no greater or more generous patrons than Houses Montague and Capulet.”
One of the things I loved most about this book was the heavy weight of haunting of the dead by those still living. This is something Shakespeare used much in Hamlet and Macbeth as well as others. Benvolio mentally imagines Romeo and Mercutio; Rosaline sees young Juliet. The imagery is often heavy with mockery or portent also a tool Melinda Taub mastered from her inspiration. At one point early in the story Benvolio is walking the streets of Verona and the ghosts of his friends are stirring his memory of Mercutio’s bragging of his sexual prowess and the promise of them all to go forth and conquer other women and other cities.
“And just like that, his friends–ghosts, memories, what you will–were gone, and Benvolio walked on alone through the deepening darkness of the Verona streets, his hand tightened on his sword, not sure if he wanted to prevent a fight or start one.”
As I said there is great betrayal in this book and just as in a good Shakespearean play you never know who it is that you should think of as the blackguard. Even when you know the one most treacherous you aren’t sure how deep that darkness might be or if it is merely as simple as you would see it or as bad as you imagine. Rosaline proves to be a far better heroine than Juliet ever was and Benvolio more charming than Romeo and Escalus more romantic than both. This tale is one of redemption and hope in the aftermath of the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. How Verona lived once more, restored by the hands and hearts of the joined Houses of Capulet and Montague, blessed by those who died last to their enmity.
Melinda Taub is easily found on the internet in various places. Her website, twitter, facebook (This appears to be her personal Facebook), Goodreads and Amazon author page. At this time I cannot find any information of any upcoming books or new releases.
Thanks for reading. Be sure to buy this book and recommend it to your friends!