Review: King of Shadows, Susan Cooper

I read this for the Time Travel Challenge.  Yeah, I’m not adhering to my list.  TOO BAD.  I’m making King of Shadows part of a time travel mini-challenge that I call the Books I Like Because They Contain Time Travel and in Spite of Having Been Written by Authors I Do Not Like as Much as My Big Sister Does Challenge.  I shall include Time Cat in this mini-challenge too, because I can do that.

Nat Field, a twelve-year-old with a tragedy in his background, comes to London as part of a company of boys to perform at the newly constructed Globe Theatre.  One evening he feels slightly ill, goes to bed, and wakes up in 1599.  There he is recognized as actor Nathan Field, come from St. Paul’s to play Puck in a special production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Shakespeare plays Oberon; back in 1999, a young actor called Nathan Field is treated in a modern hospital for bubonic plague.

I never cared for Susan Cooper.  I didn’t like all that Dark Is Rising business, and I could have lived without The Boggart too.  But King of Shadows packs a hell of an emotional punch.  My eyes are filling up with tears right now, just thinking about it.  It’s difficult to tell why without giving away the whole plot of the book, but I will say that Susan Cooper writes the loveliest darling of a Shakespeare you ever encountered, and his relationship with Nat is genuinely touching.  She’s spoiled me for all productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’m afraid.

This book may have faults, objectively speaking.  The plot may be predictable and the subplots insufficiently explored.  You read it, and let me know.  I can’t see any of those problems, because every time I read this book, it breaks my heart.  Read it!  If you do not love Shakespeare, this is still a good read; and if you do love Shakespeare, well, then, it’s like an extended edition of the best Shakespeare dream you’ve ever had.

Because it’s not just me, right?  Y’all dream about meeting Shakespeare too, right?

Other reviews:

Jen Robinson’s Book Page
Miss Erin
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature

Did I miss yours?

On another note, this is a video of three Supreme Court Justices in 1987 hearing evidence over whether Shakespeare wrote his own plays.  When I discovered that they had done this, it made me love John Paul Stevens even more than I used to, but then I discovered that he thinks the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays.  STEVENS THINKS THE EARL OF – I don’t even care if he resigns now!

(I do actually.  I love Stevens and want him to stay, and he’s the only Protestant on the Court right now.  If he goes, and Elena Kagan gets appointed, as she is favored to do, it’ll be all Jews and Catholics.  I mean I like Jews and Catholics, but I think we should have some representation of other faiths too.)

33 thoughts on “Review: King of Shadows, Susan Cooper

  1. Every year, the Supreme Court justices do some sort of mock trial at the Shakespeare Theatre. Just last week, they “tried” Henry V for war crimes. Last year, Malvolio brought a suit against Olivia. I haven’t been able to go, but I’ve heard they are hilarious. I’ll have to watch the video you link :-)

    And I agree with you about Shakespeare, all the more so after seeing comments supporting the Earl of Oxford on reviews of Shapiro’s new book about the authorship question. Let’s just say their impassioned arguments are having the opposite effect of what they intend.

    • Do they, really? I’ve never heard of such a thing! Some of them (I’m not naming names) don’t strike me as the types who would enjoy that. Why was Malvolio suing Olivia? It’s not her fault he had the silly garters.

  2. lmao – the professor who taught my Shakespeare class would have adored you and your tags :D She was quite passionate about the authorship question. I agree – it IS just snobbery, and it makes me roll my eyes.

    Anyway, I like Cooper and The Dark is Rising (the only thing of hers I’ve read, actually), and I think I’d like this too. *adds to wishlist*

    • I think I am far more passionate about it than, you know, knowledgeable. I should really research it a bit more before sneering at John Paul Stevens, Cleverest Supreme Court Justice ™.

      I realized after I published this post I’d said “damn” in the tags even though I’ve given up swearing for Lent, which just goes to show how seriously I take this question. (It doesn’t actually, I’m doing very badly at giving up swearing.) Fortunately this post was published on Sunday, which isn’t part of Lent, so, haha!, I don’t have to change the tags.

  3. I don’t really have thoughts about Shakespeare’s plays myself and who authored them. Someone told me that there is a theory Harper Lee didn’t write To Kill a Mockingbird, but that Truman Capote did. What? Good grief. I guess that’s to say that a woman can’t write a good book…

    I didn’t know about the Supreme Court justices doing something that fun! I love that idea. They aren’t all stuffy :-)

    As for religious representation- yes. I yearn from the day when someone outside the Judeo-Christian tradition can sit on the Supreme Court.

    • Oh, I yearn for that day too! Quite apart from the point that a diverse Court would offer more varieties of views and probably more nuanced judgments, I think it would say something so good about our country if we could have, say, a Hindu or a Muslim or (horrors!) an atheist confirmed to the Supreme Court. Plus, I adore the Supreme Court. I am just about to buy a massive Official Oxford Reference Book about the Supreme Court, that’s how much I love them.

      WHAT? Truman Capote write her book? HUH. That is a DREADFUL THEORY. She wrote it about her daddy! That’s a terrible theory. I turn up my nose at that theory.

  4. I lovelovelove Shakespeare, so I totally want to get my hands on this! I’d never heard of it before. I did read the Dark Is Rising books when I was little, though, and I loved ‘em then. Tried rereading them a couple of years back and just couldn’t.

    • It makes me so sad when that happens! I can never decide if I’d rather preserve my memories of the magic in my childhood favorite books, or know the Truth about them. (Truth apparently wins out as I am engaged in rereading all of Edward Eager’s books right now.)

  5. Defo want to read this now!

    What did you think of the Shakespeare portrayal in Doctor Who (The Shakespeare Code)?

    (P.S. and speaking of time travel, what do you think of DWJ’s A Tale of Time City?)

    • I liked it! I think if they had tried harder to avoid anachronism, I might have liked the guy playing Shakespeare less; but as it was, the writers were plainly just having a lark, and I thought it was charming. Did not necessarily need the extended references to JK Rowling, even though I love her.

      Tale of Time City is not my favorite of DWJ’s books. On the other hand I don’t own it, and thus I hardly ever reread it. Things might change if I owned it.

  6. I love Shakespeare, and had a small part as a fairy in a high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And of course I love time travel! :) I’ll be adding this book to my wish list immediately.

    • I always wanted to be in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My high school drama class was set to do a Shakespeare play second semester, and we all thought our teacher was going to have us do Dream. And then she decided on Comedy of Errors instead. SUCH a letdown.

  7. I didn’t read the Dark is Rising series until an adult, and liked it pretty much. But then I picked up the Boggart at random, and it was so boring. I haven’t tried any other Cooper since. I like the sound of this one, though.

    • This one’s good! And I say that as someone who hasn’t liked anything else I’ve ever read by Cooper. I give this one my whole-hearted and unqualified support.

    • What list? List of authors you like that I don’t like? Nuh-uh, you are crazy in the head. I discovered her first! I discovered The Tough Guide to Fantasyland! There were just times that you liked some of her books that I didn’t like (Deep Secret, for sure, and The Dark Lord to Derkholm, I think?), but after I’d started liking a few that I hadn’t liked at first, I realized I was going to come round to liking all her books eventually. Still waiting on Tale of Time City and The Time of the Ghost. And Hexwood, to a lesser extent.

      • I wasn’t saying I discovered her first, I was saying that I used to like her much better than you. You loved fantasy-land but there was a period wherein I was happily enjoying charmed life and the lives of christopher chant and deep secret and you were thinking that she was not very good other than the one book, and thinking the money I spent on deep secret could have been better spent elsewhere. By Dark lord of derkholm, although I liked the specific book better than you it was clear that you loved diana wynne jones better than I.

        Kinda like Buffy, really. It was a much shorter time, but it was there.

      • Oh, and also, I should add that as an adult reading dark is rising, although I still do enjoy them I can much much more see why you didn’t like them so well as I, and shouldn’t like them much if I read them for the first time now.

  8. Another for the list. I’ve had the same reaction to Susan Cooper, except for Over Sea, Under Stone, and Dark is Rising, which I think got by well on atmosphere–plus I read those two when I was young.

  9. I have the strangest sense of having written a comment here in response to a good review of The Dark Is Rising. But…. that surely cannot have been you? Oo-er. I didn’t feel particularly well when I went to bed last night. Perhaps I have woken up in a parallel world?

    • Yep, it cannot have been me. (I.) I’m not even sure I’ve read The Dark Is Rising, and if I did it was years and years back, and I don’t remember anything about it now. Do you possibly have two sets of memories like Polly in Fire and Hemlock? That would be a quite worrying development.

  10. I never heard of this time travel challenge. It sounds like so much fun, and this book too sounds great.

    I have never read any Susan Cooper, though I have always been meaning to read The Dark is Rising series because I have always heard good things about it.

    But from your post it appears that I might as well read this one instead.

    • Read this one instead! We now have two votes saying that The Dark is Rising books don’t hold up well into adulthood. This one is better for grown-ups AND contains time travel. :)

  11. Wait–you don’t like Susan Cooper? I don’t understand. How is that even possible?

    My little sister and I both slavishly adore The Dark is Rising Sequence to the point that we actually watched the godawful film adaptation The Seeker. I cannot imagine any childhood fantasy lover NOT loving it!

    Susan Cooper brings people together! Shoots, during my senior year of high school, I was over at my boyfriend’s house reading The Grey King (the penultimate book in the Sequence) while he and his friends all skated outside. Everyone was really excited because this one phenomenally cool skater had come over to try out Jay’s rails, but I was just hanging out inside, utterly absorbed by Cooper’s world. Into the kitchen came Amazingly Cool Skater Dude to get a glass of water, but when he saw what I was reading, he sat down and chatted with me about The Dark is Rising for a good twenty minutes. When Jay came in to investigate, it blew his MIND to see his idol talking about kids’ books with his booknerd girlfriend. (Obviously, we were not together long.) Susan Cooper! Is AWESOME!

    • I do not like her in a box, I do not like her with a fox–

      Seriously, I don’t know what the problem is. On paper it sounds like exactly the kind of series little me would have been all over. But I tried several times, because I liked to like the same books as my big sister, and each time I couldn’t get through them. :(

  12. i read this book once and did not enjoy it… it goes round and round one same idea… not very enjoying for young readers… people our age need something more eventful.

    I had to read it for a school assignment so i basicly had to but i wouldnt even recommend it to my worst enemy :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(

    READ THIS!!!!!!!READ THIS!!!!!!READ THIS!!!!!!READ THIS!!!!!!

  13. Just found this (and your link back to my review, thanks!), and I wanted to say hi. This book breaks my heart so badly EVERY SINGLE TIME I read it, and I’m glad to have found somebody like-minded!

  14. I think this book is dreadful and i have to write a review on it for some class work :(.
    I would not recommend this book to anyone.
    The plot is so unrealistic.

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