Reading Level: Young Adult
Genre: historical fantasy
Size: 320 pages
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Release Date: September 1, 2013
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: Amazon Vine
Rating: 5/5 stars
I got a finished copy of this book to review through the Amazon Vine program. I love Hamlet (and Shakespeare in general) and have read a couple retellings of this play. This was by far the best one of the bunch. The writing style is lyrical and beautiful and I absolutely loved it.
Ophelia is the daughter the main administrator at a boarding school. For generations the boarding school has been run by the Hamlet family, but the death of the Headmaster has turned the school on it’s head. One of the most affected people is the son of the Headmaster, Dane, he is beside himself because of his father’s death. When Dane’s uncle announces that he will marry Dane’s mother, Dane is incredibly distraught and seeks solace in Ophelia’s company. However Ophelia has issues of her own, she can see ghosts and fae and has been heavily medicated for a long time to shut down this ability.
This was an absolutely beautiful and tragic retelling of Hamlet. I really enjoyed it, the writing is lyrical and does an excellent job of echoing the original play. Many famous parts of the play are quoted word through word throughout and I enjoyed that.
At first it was hard to figure out the era the book was set in. The language the story is told in is very lyrical, flowery, and a bit archaic. The men are very protective of the girls, and the school is raising girls to be society wives so they aren’t allowed to take the same classes as the boys. Additionally Ophelia is always in dresses. However, there are things like cell phones, antidepressants, birth control pills, etc mentioned in the book. So I finally deduced that this book is set in modern times.
Ophelia however, is not necessarily living in the same world as everyone else. She is somewhat isolated in the boarding school, she sees faeries, and is heavily medicated..which makes her somewhat dissociated and passive. I think the archaic language the story was told in really shows how very dislocated from the rest of the world Ophelia is, it also does an excellent job of echoing Hamlet…while being easier to read and grasp than Hamlet.
I know other readers have complained about the archaic language and writing style, but I absolutely loved it. I thought it was cleverly done. It conveys the dreaminess of Ophelia’s existence while also exposing readers to a beautiful writing style that conveys the feeling of Shakespeare without being as hard to read as Shakespeare is.
Ophelia is such an interesting character and I loved that this story is told from her point of view. Her love and need for Dane is so genuine, yet so wrong. Both Ophelia and Dane dance back and forth over the line of insanity and this was incredibly well done in this book. I loved hearing from her point of view why she supported Dane and why she let him use and abuse her so. Her and Dane don’t have a healthy relationship and it was interesting to see that admitted and explored.
I was also impressed with how similar the boarding school situation was to a kingdom, a very traditional and elite boarding school was actually an excellent way to tell this story. I was a bit skeptical at first, but it all worked beautifully.
There is some magic and paranormal elements to the story as well. Ophelia’s mom is a water faerie, a morgan, and Ophelia also sees ghosts. This all ties into the story very well and fills out Ophelia’s background nicely. I enjoyed these additional elements to the story and thought they added a lot to it.
This is a tragedy folks, there is no happy ending. The whole book you just feel the wrongness building and are waiting for it all to explode. Hutchinson does an excellent job building this tension throughout the story. Even though I knew how the story would end I had trouble putting the book down.
Overall I really really loved this book. As I said…I have read other Hamlet retellings, even from Ophelia’s point of view, and did not enjoy them. This book however was absolutely spot on. It echoes Hamlet very well and even has some quotations and dialogue form the original play. The writing style is absolutely beautiful and does an excellent job of echoing Hamlet while being more accessible. I loved how the archaic language in a modern setting shows you how removed Ophelia is from the outside world. I just pretty much loved everything about this book! I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Hutchinson’s future works.