Taking his title from Romeo’s early speech about the pain of love, Hartley has spun a second tale of time-travel and mystery at St Francis School, a place where students find themselves caught up in events which closely mirror Shakespeare’s plays. This central idea in his stories allows his readers to consider the events and characters of Shakespeare’s works afresh. In the first in the series, The Invisible Hand, Hartley’s protagonist, Sam, finds himself involved in the action of Macbeth, moving between Scottish battles and his rather more mundane classroom in his waking hours. In this new tale, Hartley has resisted shifting characters to medieval Italy – the narrative rules would have proved rather too flexible if he had – and this time he uses the plot of Romeo and Juliet within the school setting itself. This works well, even if – and as with the play itself – an older reader has to agree to suspend disbelief at the sheer speed at which these teenagers commit to each other.
What makes this story different from other school stories is that Hartley is developing his rather fascinating premise that the magical powers at work at St Francis relate back to Shakespeare’s time and body of work. We learn more about the Magistrate, the student prefect body, and the new Headmaster. We also move back 400 years in time to see a young playwright turn up at the school, looking for employment on his way to London. I enjoyed Hartley’s treatment of the young William Shakespeare himself and felt that these scenes were particularly vivid and memorable.
Hartley has used the magical element to explore Shakespeare’s writing further and it complements the idea present in the modern-day school that a Writer (a student with specific abilities in Hartley’s world) has a power to change the future, a notion explored to devastating effect by Kizzie, one of the protagonists in Cold Fire. I enjoyed the metafictive element of this tale, the way Hartley nods to the power of writers to change outcomes,
‘He is protected by the Writer,” the Master replied. “By the Writer’s story. There are consequences. There will be consequences.”
Romeo and Juliet has caught the imagination of school students for decades and, like Macbeth, is probably one of the most-taught of the plays. This provides a new look at the central relationship and Hartley has cleverly woven in many familiar lines. There’s something perfect about the tragedy within Romeo and Juliet that writers return to in their own work, but everyone knows the ending and this can prove tricky for those wishing to adapt or play with the story. I found Hartley’s own resolution genuinely moving and felt that this second novel in the series is even better than the first.
My thanks to Rachel @Rararesources for providing a copy for review. Catch the rest of the blog tour here:
Set in the magical boarding school of St Francis’, Cold Fire centres around a group of teenagers who become involved in the tale of Romeo and Juliet in this contemporary re-telling of the classic story. Meanwhile, four hundred years earlier, a young teacher from Stratford Upon Avon arrives at the school. His name is Will… From the author of The Invisible Hand comes the second book in the spellbinding Shakespeare´s Moon series.
James was born on the Wirral, England, in 1973 on a rainy Thursday. He shares his birthday with Bono, Sid Vicious and two even nastier pieces of work, John Wilkes Booth and Mark David Chapman. His mother was a hairdresser with her own business and his father worked in a local refinery which pours filth into the sky over the Mersey to this day. They married young and James was their first child. He has two younger brothers and a still-expanding family in the area. As an Everton fan he suffered years of Liverpool success throughout the seventies and was thrilled when his father took a job in Singapore and the family moved lock, stock and two smoking barrels to Asia. He spent five fine years growing up in the city state before returning to the rain, storms, comprehensive schools and desolate beauty of the Scottish east coast. Later years took he and his family to baking hot Muscat, in Oman, and a Syria that has since been bombed off the surface of the planet. James lives in Madrid, Spain, with his wife and two children.
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