There is nothing better than that feeling, sustained from the first page to the last, that you’ve stumbled upon a new favourite author. Joanna Courtney’s story of Hamlet’s Ofelia, and the murky world of 7th-century Norse politics, is richly nuanced, gripping, and viscerally real. Set in what is now Northumbria as well as various locations in Denmark, the narrative arc of the story is of Hamlet’s fight to be King, despite his uncles’ best attempts to kill him. By his side throughout this struggle is Ofelia, master swordswoman and shield maiden, leader of his army, sworn to protect him. There could not be a greater contrast to Shakespeare’s Ophelia, whose mad darkness stamps her as victim. This Ofelia has come to terms with childhood trauma and forged herself a life protecting her Prince; fulfilled in every way but one. She has sworn never to tie herself to any man and refuses to marry Hamlet – himself so much more interesting than Shakespeare’s pallid skull-gazer.
It seems to me that the theme of this book is love; beautifully drawn between Hamlet and Ofelia, but also between the Prince and the two wives he takes for politically expedient purposes, and eventually between all three women. The book made me laugh, and cry, and cheer in almost equal measure; I am delighted to find that there are two other books in the Shakespeare’s Queens series already published, which are on their way to me!