Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review: The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

The Shakespeare Stealer (The Shakespeare Stealer #1)
By Gary Blackwood
Dutton Children's Books

To Sum It Up: Meek orphan Widge has never received much notice from anyone, even when he finally leaves the orphanage to begin an apprenticeship. Under his master, Dr. Bright, Widge learns a form of shorthand that Dr. Bright has developed himself. One day, a mysterious stranger who has heard about Dr. Bright’s system shows up to buy Widge’s apprenticeship. Widge’s new master, Simon Bass, wants Widge to go to London to attend a performance of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and transcribe it using shorthand so that Bass’s own acting company will be able to perform the play. Accompanied by Bass’s menacing right-hand man, Falconer, Widge is about to embark on the adventure of his life in Elizabethan London.

Review: I was pleasantly surprised by The Shakespeare Stealer. While it’s probably more of a middle-grade read than a young adult one, I found the story to be very charming, as well as a nice introduction to Shakespeare and his times for younger readers.

As soon as I read that the main character’s name, Widge, was short for Pigwidgeon, I couldn’t help but think of Pigwidgeon the owl from Harry Potter. Widge is a young orphan who’s never really belonged anywhere. Even when he becomes an apprentice to Dr. Bright, a man with suspect morals who trains Widge in shorthand so that Widge can transcribe sermons from neighboring parishes that Dr. Bright can then pass off as his own, Widge is given little more than the necessities of food and shelter. It’s not until Widge sets out to transcribe a performance of Hamlet for his new master, Simon Bass, that he begins to learn what it’s like to be part of a family.

I became engrossed in Widge’s journey from lowly apprentice to aspiring actor with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. When he first arrives in London, his sole focus is on copying down the play and being released from the scrutiny of the intimidating Falconer. Widge loses his notebook, though, and while trying to retrieve it from the Globe Theatre, he gets caught by some of Shakespeare’s players. Widge concocts the cover story that he wants to be a player, and he’s welcomed into the fold by most of the actors. This brings some unexpected changes to Widge’s life. For the first time ever, he has friends and a sense of belonging. He also actually enjoys the work, even when his jobs are behind the scenes. Widge’s increasing comfort in his new surroundings makes it all the more difficult for him to carry out his original task; it means stealing from those who have taken him under their wing. As you watch Widge struggle with this dilemma, you realize how attached he’s grown to his new family. The Shakespeare Stealer is truly a coming-of-age story, and I couldn’t help but silently urge Widge to make the right decision as I read along.

Although I’m certainly not an expert on Elizabethan times, I found this portrayal of the era and the characters’ dialogue very believable. The book is quite humorous, with the characters frequently exchanging witty remarks. The Bard himself makes an appearance or two, but this is Widge’s story all the way, and I really enjoyed it.

All in All: I love historical fiction, and Hamlet is my favorite Shakespearean play, so this book was an ideal combination for me. I’ll definitely continue reading about Widge’s adventures.


  1. Sounds like a nice book.
    Im not really into middle grade books, and I rarely will read historical novels.
    Great review though. Im sure its a nice book.

    1. I don't read much middle grade either, but I love Shakespeare, and I couldn't resist borrowing this when I saw it at the library.

  2. I'm not much of a middle grade book reader, but I think I'll have to make an exception for this one because it sounds so awesome! I LOVE how his name is Pigwidgeon!! My first thought was Harry Potter too...
    great review! :)

    1. I never thought that I'd come across the name Pigwidgeon again after reading Harry Potter, lol.


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