Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine / ★★★ 1/2
One sentence summary: A Romeo and Juliet retelling in which Benvolio Montague is the Prince of Shadows, thieving by night as his best friend Mercutio hopelessly loves a boy, his cousin Romeo falls helplessly in love with Juliet Capulet, and Benvolio feels the pull of her cousin Rosaline as a dark curse unravels them all.
It was more than infatuation, more than love.
It was something darker than that, and with a darker end.
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Retelling
This was a difficult book for me to gather my thoughts around, because in some areas I found it brilliant, and then in other areas I was very “eh.” But first of all, I love Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s my favorite Shakespeare play, and there are many reasons I love it, but most of all because it was first taught to me by the best English teacher I ever had and I can still see him running around the classroom acting it out in a one man show. So, Romeo and Juliet is dear to me, and Prince of Shadows is not the first retelling I’ve read, but it is one of the most innovative ones.
What I found brilliant: I loved the darkness of this story. Sure, the original Romeo and Juliet was not all sunshine and flowers, but this book added a fantastic edge of darkness to the story using a subtle kind of fantasy that crept up on the characters and me as the reader. Rachel Caine added an entirely new layer of tragedy to Romeo and Juliet. Also brilliant: Mercutio’s character and his role in the plot. Mercutio was the standout character in this book for me, I would recommend this book because of him alone. I love him in the original Romeo and Juliet, but he played a vital role in the dark edge this book took on, and I loved it. I will admit I did get a little teary-eyed at the end, and as much as I’ve always loved Romeo and Juliet, it’s never actually made me sad. This book took on a new sense of romance and really ramped up the politics of the plot, which I loved.
What I was “eh” about: Benvolio’s romantic plot. The summary of this book led me to believe this book was going to revolve more heavily around Benvolio’s romance with Juliet’s cousin, Rosaline Capulet. I didn’t mind that this romance took a smaller part in the plot, but I did feel misled into believing that Rosaline would be a more prominent character, and because she had a smaller part than I expected, I really didn’t feel very connected to or invested in their relationship and their plotline. It was very lacking for me.
I also felt that this book was a bit on the slower side, especially since in Romeo and Juliet, a lot happens in very short amount of time. Prince of Shadows is not a particularly long book, but I felt like it could have done with a bit more urgency. Only at the very end was I nearing the edge of my seat to see what happened, but I think I would have enjoyed this book more had I felt a higher sense of tension from the rest of it. This may be a “it’s me, not you” issue I had with the book, because I can totally see how someone might be far more gripped by this book than I was. This was a great book, and I really liked the way it retold Romeo and Juliet, and I did get emotional at the end, but there was just a tension and personal connection missing for me for it really grip me.
Mercutio, like I said, was A+. I loved the interpretation and the progression of his character. He was fantastic and heartbreaking. Best part of the book for me.
I also found Caine’s interpretation of Romeo to be really interesting. I loved the softheartedness and sweetness she gave his romantic, naive nature. Sure, he was aggravating and immature, because he is Romeo, but I thought Caine gave a really great balance to his personality and I was actually…sad about him?? I don’t think I’ve ever actually been sad about about Romeo.
And Benvolio…it’s hard to pinpoint my feelings about Benvolio. I thought this book gave a brilliant interpretation of him. It took his prominent characteristic as a peacemaker and combined it with a nature of calculated cold-bloodedness and a levelheadedness compassion. He was a very layered character, and exemplified the delicate balance of justice in the battle of hate vs. peace that took place in the plot. Any criticism I have about his character is completely “it’s me, not you.” I just…didn’t connect with him. My heart didn’t reach out to him. I felt warm toward Mercutio and Romeo, but Benvolio…I just wasn’t into his character. I liked him, I appreciated his character, but I think I would have liked the book more overall if I was able to connect with him more, but it’s no fault of the book that I didn’t.
And like I said, Rosaline just didn’t feel as prominent in this book as the summary had led me to believe. I liked what she represented for women during this time period, but like Benvolio…I just wasn’t really into her, only I felt like she was a bit flatter, and could have used more screen time to develop her characterization and her relationship with Benvolio. She and Benvolio had a small case of insta-love, and it felt like it jumped right into their romance instead of really warming it up for me. I never felt invested in them.
Rachel Caine’s writing was an eloquent, dark, if less intense kind of Shakespeare-speak than actual Shakespeare, and when she blended lines from the actual play into her story it flowed perfectly. She really nailed the the tone of this story to make it feel darker than the actual play. I did feel that it was a bit slow at times- not necessarily that was overly descriptive, just that actions took a while to happen, I suppose. But I thought the writing of this book was great and beautiful at times.
One thing that amused me: there was a typo in the copy of my book in which Lady Montague was written as “Lady Capulet.” It felt like a rather dire typo 😉
Was I satisfied?
Like 75%. I really did enjoy this book and I loved the the dark twist Rachel Caine gave the story of Romeo and Juliet, but I was just lacking in connection to Benvolio’s character. I think it’s more a case of “it’s me, not you” with the parts of this book that didn’t work for me. But overall, I did think aspects of it were brilliant, and I would recommend it if you like the Romeo and Juliet.