cover image King of Shadows

King of Shadows

Susan Cooper. Margaret K. McElderry Books, $17.99 (186pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82817-1

Cooper (The Dark Is Rising) brilliantly weaves past and present together, using London's Globe Theatre as backdrop, to demonstrate the timelessness of Shakespeare's works and the theater at large. The first segment of the novel, set in the present, details Nathan Field's rehearsals for the part of Puck in an upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, to be mounted in the newly renovated Globe. He has been chosen, along with a group of other boys from America, to travel to England for the performance. When Nat is suddenly stricken with a serious illness, he awakens to find himself once again cast as Puck at the Globe Theatre, but the year is 1599. Cooper meticulously conveys Nat's impressions of the sights, sounds, smells and textures of Elizabethan England. She is equally adept at evoking the boy's respect and awe for his ""new"" director, the bard himself. Shakespeare, cast as a wise, intuitive father figure, takes orphaned Nat under his wing. In return, Nat saves the playwright's life by unknowingly changing the natural course of history. Through the boy's relationship with ""Will,"" as Nat calls him, Cooper deftly reveals Nat's unresolved feelings about his own deceased father. The judicious use of quotes from Shakespeare's plays and sonnets will awaken in novices an interest in his works and command respect from seasoned fans. Fascinating details of 16th-century troupe life as well as how costumes, make-up and stage effects were carried out add depth and layers to the depiction of life 400 years ago. An unexpected, appropriately enigmatic ending brings this masterful novel to a close--and brings home the resounding message that the show must go on. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)