Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review: Shakespeare's Scribe by Gary Blackwood

Shakespeare's Scribe (The Shakespeare Stealer #2)
By Gary Blackwood
Dutton Children's Books

To Sum It Up: Orphan Widge has come a long way since he first arrived in London on a mission to copy William Shakespeare’s Hamlet so that another acting company could perform it. Although Widge’s secret was eventually revealed, he still found a place among the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Now Widge is about to experience the life of a traveling actor. A plague outbreak in London forces the closure of all of its theaters, and Shakespeare decides to take a small group of players, Widge among them, on the road to perform. Widge’s knowledge of shorthand becomes invaluable to Shakespeare after the latter injures his arm and needs Widge’s assistance in writing down his latest work in progress. But Widge’s future with the group whom he’s come to regard as a family becomes unclear when a stop in his former hometown provides a possible clue to his past.

Review: The Shakespeare Stealer was a very enjoyable read, so I was really looking forward to reading the follow-up, Shakespeare’s Scribe. Much to my disappointment, the sequel lacked the charm and wit that made the first book so captivating. I just didn’t feel as invested in the story and the characters as I did with The Shakespeare Stealer.

The plot of Shakespeare’s Scribe, which centers around the Lord Chamberlain’s Men taking their act on the road after the plague forces the shutdown of London’s theaters, wasn’t all that compelling to me. I failed to find anything particularly fascinating about the day-to-day life of a traveling actor in Elizabethan England. As Shakespeare and his actors trudged through muddy country roads, I felt like I was slogging through the book. Shakespeare, who’s in the midst of writing a play that will eventually become All’s Well That Ends Well, has a greater presence here than he did in The Shakespeare Stealer. Although it’s welcome, more page time for the Bard still doesn’t inject enough spark into the story.

The biggest letdown was the lack of character growth by the protagonist, Widge. We pretty much see the same Widge from the previous book. The story line involving the addition of an apprentice named Sal Pavy, who previously belonged to another acting company and becomes Widge’s rival, fell kind of flat. My interest was piqued when the Lord Chamberlain’s Men made a stop in York, where Widge grew up, and a visit to his old orphanage resulted in an unexpected clue to his parentage. I thought that this development in Widge’s story had a lot of potential, but I didn’t like the way that it played out. At times this plotline seemed forced, like it was in the book just to give Widge something to do besides transcribing for Shakespeare and worrying about losing his roles to Sal Pavy. I really do like Widge; he’s an endearing sort of lad whom you can’t help but cheer for, and I felt that he deserved a more satisfying resolution to his search for answers about his identity.

Shakespeare’s Scribe isn’t a bad book by any means. It’s just that I went into it with high expectations after liking the previous book so much, and this installment in the series didn’t quite meet those expectations. I do still plan on reading the third book in this series, Shakespeare’s Spy, to see if the story picks up.

All in All: I thought that the series lost some of its momentum this time around, but fans of The Shakespeare Stealer might still want to check this out and follow Widge on his latest adventure.

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