Given his penchant for historical fiction and his freakish productivity – this is his 54th novel – it was only a matter of time until bestselling writer Bernard Cornwell got around to Shakespeare, and in his new book Fools and Mortals, he does just that…but it's not playwright William but his younger brother Richard who's the star of the story ... He thinks of Richard, with some justification, as a strutting, whining fool, but even allowing for sibling rivalry, William isn't exactly overflowing with the milk of human kindness himself...this is a Shakespeare who's often cruel but never kind ... Cornwell has had a vast amount of experience at working his exposition smoothly into his narrative, and all that experience pays off in Fools and Mortals: as in all the best historical fiction, readers will come away with a seminar's-worth of historical knowledge without feeling like they did any heavy lifting.
With Fools and Mortals Bernard Cornwell joins the speculative fun, presenting a portrait of Shakespeare that seems impressively original ... This book is a change of pace for Mr. Cornwell, who is best known for his historical novels... Fools and Mortals features a bit of swordplay — as Richard points out, any actor worth his salt needed to know how to handle a rapier — but readers should still expect less action here than in the author’s usual fare ... The plot is almost insouciantly slight ... Mr. Cornwell fattens up this story with a splendor of period detail, introducing a range of London characters from cutpurses and bear-baiters to noblemen, and distinguishing each through colorful speech and dress.
Bernard Cornwell’s 55th book is something of a departure. True, it’s an historical novel, but it is not concerned with military adventure. Rather, it tells the highly speculative tale of William Shakespeare’s initial production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as recounted by his younger brother, Richard ... The first half or more of the book is taken with setting the scene for the little action in the second half. We get plenty of background on Elizabethan theater and the politics of the time ... Cornwell brings his usual penchant for historical accuracy in setting his scene, but there isn’t much incident or excitement in the book to hold the reader’s attention. While all of the detail about the workings of Elizabethan theater is mildly interesting, it’s not enough for a nearly 400-page novel ... I suspect Cornwell’s fans, who seek thrilling historical action and adventure, will be disappointed with Fools and Mortals, while new readers drawn by the Shakespeare connection will be disappointed by the shallowness of the characterizations and plot.
Fools and Mortals is as skillful a blend of history and fiction as any novelist can achieve ... For his new novel, Bernard Cornwell invented a life for Richard Shakespeare, a historic younger brother (1574-1613) of playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616) ... The plot turns on fictional events, but the tension and the appeal of the novel rises from the well-researched setting of London in the time of Queen Elizabeth I ... The fictional plot revolves around theft and love, highly reflective and symbolic of Shakespeare’s plots, to form a perfect balance between fiction and fact ... Best of all, through Richard’s first-person narrative, Cornwell’s version of William Shakespeare emerges as an unloving brother, a shrewd businessman, a passable actor and the most talented playwright ever ... Anyone reading Fools and Mortals will not see or read Shakespeare the same again.
Bernard Cornwell is well versed in historical writing — he’s perhaps the living king of the genre at this point — but this is Shakespeare we’re talking about. It’s intimidating territory, and not every novelist can do it well ... With his usual knack for detail and characterization, Cornwell plunges fearlessly into Shakespearean England for his latest novel ... The first thing readers will notice in Fools and Mortals, as they will in Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom, is the voice. Richard tells his own story, and as crafted by Cornwell’s skilled hands, he tells it beautifully. Right away, there’s a sense of the Shakespearean balance of wit and drama ...Cornwell places us in proximity to history we know and then brushes greater depth and detail into the personal story he’s trying to convey ...a riveting novel driven by a distinctive voice that’s sure to hook you.
Cornwell turns from conspiracies of crowned heads to mysteries in the world of Elizabethan theater ... Cornwell is superb with mood and setting, whether ugly — London’s 'reek of sewage and smoke' — or elegant: 'city churches mangled the air by striking eleven' ... The plot is a mystery within a play ... There are details about everything from the mostly Puritan, black-dressed thought police to theater makeup... There are a plethora of characters, everyone distinctively sketched, and there's much ado about Shakespeare’s creative process ... A master craftsman at work: imaginative, intelligent, and just plain fun.