Title: Still Star-Crossed
Author: Melinda Taub
Length: 342 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
After the summer bloodbath, the people of Shakespeare’s Verona attempt to pick up the pieces and move on–but someone does not want to let the Montague-Capulet feud die quietly. Escalus, Prince of Verona, is weary of bloodshed and strife on the streets of his city and resolves to make peace between the two houses by uniting them in marriage. Thus Romeo’s cousin Benvolio and his headstrong former love interest, Rosaline–cousin to Juliet–find themselves betrothed against their will. They agree to work together to escape the unwanted arrangement by uncovering the cause of the continued unrest, but are soon in over their heads.
I went into this book somewhat skeptical only to be very pleasantly surprised.
The characters, both Shakespeare’s and the author’s, seemed real and alive. The dialogue was authentically Shakespearean-sounding without seeming kitschy. Though it was rather jarring in the beginning, by the hundred-page mark I had more or less gotten used to the thee/ou-vs.-you business. The plot was fast-paced and gripping, more exciting than that of Romeo and Juliet; my only real complaint was that I found the identities and motives of the plotters somewhat unbelievable once they were revealed.
Well–I also saw the outcome of the regrettable love triangle coming from a mile away, just because of the way the story is structured, but I know that it didn’t bother everyone.
Ironically, Ms. Taub employed the same tactic that I complained about in my review of The Dream Thieves: multiple characters’ points-of-view not separated by chapters (in fact, there were no chapters, just “parts,” perhaps to give it a stage-drama feel?) It worked here, though–at least I thought so. In part, that was because the POVs were still contained in some fashion; one scene = one POV, etc. (It probably also had to do with the fact that Still Star-Crossed actually had a coherent plot.) The narrative, for all that it that it was told through multiple POVs, certainly never seemed disorganized or confusing.
Despite the qualms I had above about the details of the plot, the story itself was very entertaining. It was a stronger element of the novel than the actual characters at times, as good as most of them were. I also appreciated that Rosaline was, for all her spunk, still written like a young lady of her time. Nothing gets under my skin like anachronistic heroins in YA historical fiction. I would’ve appreciated more showing and less telling when it came to her supposed wit–she is constantly described as being clever, intelligent, etc.–but it wasn’t a major drawback for me. She did have a smart mouth, mostly when it came to Benvolio, but not smart enough to annoy me, either. As a whole, I was impressed by the way Ms. Taub sculpted a well-rounded character out of a name and a smattering of details from the play (in which Rosaline never actually appears).
Benvolio and the Prince–to whom Taub gives the Christian name Escalus–were also pretty solid characters (they, for those who don’t know, do appear in the play, though not in huge quantities). I really liked Rosaline’s younger sister, Livia, and I wish we’d seen more of her. Rosaline’s memories of growing up with little Juliet in House Capulet were also really charming, and I was sad there weren’t more of them.
All that said, while I did feel bad for the titular doomed lovers of Shakespeare’s play, this book made me want to slap both of them from time to time, especially Romeo, he of the sad, dreamy sighs.
Overall, I very much enjoyed Still Star-Crossed. It kept me turning pages eagerly, and when I got to the end I wanted more, please (seriously, Ms. Taub, you’ve got talent–please write some more!) which is usually the mark of something quality, I think. Most importantly, this book captured the most crucial idea of the original play: not that Romeo and Juliet were silly, naive, and hormonal kids who made bad choices (as many a cynical high school know-it-all will tell you whilst rolling their eyes); but that the Montagues and Capulets really had no quarrel with each other, and that for the tragic deaths of their young people, the adults who perpetuated the feud without reason had only themselves to blame.
Last thought: in all seriousness, the author seems delightful. I can’t wait for her to publish something else. And her author’s note made me laugh:
Since Shakespeare himself borrowed liberally from other sources, I trust that his spirit will forgive me for borrowing the characters and setting I love so much. […] Still Star-Crossed doesn’t take place in Italy–it takes place in Shakespeare’s Italy, an imaginary country where the geography is slightly different and everyone speaks English.