The Book’s Basics
Title: Prince of Shadows
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: No, a stand-alone.
Genre: Young Adult (YA), Historical Fiction
Length: 411 pages
Initial Reaction: I enjoyed this book and I thought it was very cleverly written.
This book is set within William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Benvolio Montague is, as his surname would suggest, a member of House Montague and he is Romeo’s cousin. He is expected to honour his house and die for it if need be.
However, at night he is Prince of Shadows, a Robin Hood-esque figure who runs across rooftops and steals from the rich to give to those who are in need. One chance encounter leaves him thinking a lot about Rosaline Capulet, Juliet’s cousin. Although he has strong feelings towards her, because their Houses are essentially at war, he accepts that he cannot pursue his feelings and the understanding they seem to share.
When some very tragic events occur and spur a reckoning, resulting in many strange behaviours and unexpected deaths (although, maybe not so unexpected if the reader is familiar with Romeo and Juliet’s story), he has a lot of decisions to make about love, duty, and friendship.
A question that the book raises is: Why did Romeo and Juliet fall in love when all sense said that it was bad for them and their families? The exploration of this question is really interesting and the concept and practice of love is explored in several different iterations, including forbidden love and the love between friends. It also raises questions about the validity of some types of love, but what I mostly took from this book is that love is great and valid, whether fleeting or long established and should be allowed to flourish, else tragedy is inevitable.
Who would I recommend this book to?
This is a good story on its own. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy reading historical fiction, especially stories set in the late Middle Ages, as it has much of the usual intrigues of that time. There is also a lot of Benvolio in his persona as the Prince of Shadows, which is always action-packed.
Readers who are familiar with Shakespeare and his works would get more out of it than people who haven’t as there are nods to other works by him, but they are not so out of place so as to ruin it for anyone who doesn’t recognize them.
It’s interesting to see how this story fits into the story of Romeo and Juliet, and how it weaves through and encompasses it. Having knowledge of this play in particular would benefit a reader, but isn’t necessary to the understanding or enjoyment of the book as it is a strong story on its own.
A little less than a year ago, I started following the author of this book, Rachel Caine, on Twitter. She seemed very kind and very interesting to follow. Around that time, Rachel was diagnosed with an aggressive form of sarcoma and she was very forthcoming about her battle with cancer. She had an aggressive form of sarcoma and I followed what she wrote about her treatment plan, the hopes of upcoming procedures and the difficulties of them, the wait following them and the sense of hope that kindled, and then the heartbreak when they were unsuccessful.
She passed away on November 1st, 2020.
“We cannot hold mortality’s strong hand.”Shakespeare, William. King John. Act IV, Scene II, Line 84
As she spoke about her decline, I hoped that she would rally and that she would be able to beat her illness, and I was crushed when I read the post announcing that she had passed.
Which should be strange as I never had the opportunity to meet her and, other than likes on Twitter, I had never spoken with her or interacted with her. I can’t even imagine how her passing impacted those who were close to her.
The end of last year was odd for me as I was recovering from surgery (nothing overly serious) and I had been working towards being more social and active – then the pandemic hit. Her account was a place I could go to see kindness and where I could root for her and hope for better, for recovery. For hope – for all of us.
When she passed, I took it as a bad omen for the rest of the year and for 2021. That everything was terrible and mortality sucked and things were hopeless.
“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.”Shakespeare, William. All’s Well That Ends Well, Act IV, Scene iii, Line 51
But Rachel’s life was important and she left a lasting impact on so many readers and writers. She was a best selling novelist and she always seemed happy to give advice and promote other authors’ books. She also, at least for me, had a unique skill in reaching through the impersonal veil of social media and cultivated a welcoming space, while also being honest about her struggles and her victories.
After she passed, there were many posts on Twitter talking about how wonderful she was. Hardworking, happy to help and give advice, kind, and funny. I read a lot of them and they made me feel a bit angry at first. Not at the people giving the tributes, they were beautiful and moving, but at everything because she was gone. But then I felt gratitude that she had been alive and that she touched so many.
In the mornings, I still find myself opening Twitter, not quite awake yet, and checking her account, but not so often now that some time has passed.
“What do you feel?” she asked me, in a quiet, ruffled tone. She did not raise her head to meet my gaze.
“Grief,” I said, and stroked her hair. “But grief passes.”Rachel Caine. Prince of Shadows. Pg. 400
Did this passage have me in tears in the bath? Yes, Reader, yes it did.
Art matters, voices matter, every individual’s impact matters, even if we can’t see the reach that our actions or words have. Rachel demonstrated this to me. My grief for her still hasn’t passed, but I am grateful to her for showing kindness and strength, even through the greatest adversity. Her influence was not little, but she did live fiercely.