Author: Lisa M. Klein
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: October 2006
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 1/2 Crowns
He is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; she is simply Ophelia. If you think you know their story, think again.
In this reimagining of Shakespeare's famous tragedy, it is Ophelia who takes center stage. A rowdy, motherless girl, she grows up at Elsinore Castle to become the queen's most trusted lady-in-waiting. Ambitious for knowledge and witty as well as beautiful, Ophelia learns the ways of power in a court where nothing is as it seems. When she catches the attention of the captivating, dark-haired Prince Hamlet, their love blossoms in secret. But bloody deeds soon turn Denmark into a place of madness, and Ophelia's happiness is shattered. Ultimately she must choose between her love for Hamlet and her own life. In desperation, Ophelia devises a treacherous plan to escape from Elsinore forever... with one very dangerous secret.
I thought this was a unique take on Shakespeare's Hamlet. I loved the play when I read it in high school and college. I always liked the character of Hamlet though I didn't like his treatment of Ophelia. Here we see things from a different angle and we get to know Ophelia better. I liked her more than Hamlet in this book. She is a character that has endured much sorrow from the loss of her mother to her not so great relationship with her father, Polonius and later on the tragedy with Hamlet. What makes it more poignant is how close Ophelia becomes to Queen Gertrude in the book. She serves as one of Gertrude's ladies in waiting and comes to see Gertrude as a second mother and someone to look up to. I thought this relationship is even better portrayed than that of Ophelia and Hamlet. We first see Hamlet when Ophelia is a child and they grow up together at the castle. When she is a teen, they fall in love but it is never clear what Ophelia sees in him. I didn't really buy into their romance, perhaps because the author wanted to keep Hamlet's character true to the Shakespearean version. He is kind but then he becomes the troubled character from the play. We do get a glimpse of why Ophelia might have loved him but sadly it doesn't last long.
I think the parts of the story that diverge from the play are really well done. I liked getting a glimpse into Ophelia's life before her relationship with Hamlet even begins. We see her blossom under Queen Gertrude's influence, watch her hold her own against a spiteful girl at court, and show kindness to an elderly servant. This helps to develop Ophelia's character and our understanding of her before the events of the play unfold.
I really enjoyed the historical details about life at court in Elsinore, clothing, customs, and especially herbal remedies. I think this really added to the story. Unfortunately I found the pacing too slow at times and it was all too easy to put the book down. I also thought the language became clunky whenever the author strayed too close to lines from Shakespeare's play. Most of the dialogue was written in a way to suggest a different historical time period but it was still very readable. When the lines nearly directly quote Shakespeare however it doesn't flow as smoothly. I understood why the author did it but wish she had rephrased the sentences to match the writing style used in the rest of the book. Overall I thought Ophelia was an enjoyable book and our eponymous heroine was a great character to read about. This is the second book I've read by Lisa M. Klein (after Cate of the Lost Colony) and she has proven to be an excellent YA historical fiction writer.
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