Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: "Miranda and Caliban" by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey fills in some of the gaps of Shakespeare with her latest novel, “Miranda and Caliban ($25.99, Tor), based, of course, on “The Tempest.”

Carey imagines what life might have been like on Prospero’s island during the years of his exile, before the events of Shakespeare’s famous play.

We find Prospero and Miranda living fairly happily, at least Miranda thinks, in an old castle on the island, their everyday needs tended by elementals that the magician has bent to his will. Then Caliban enters their lives.

Prospero suspects he is the son of the witch Sycorax, and holds the key to unlocking the spirit Ariel from the tree where he is imprisoned. He captures the wild boy for the information, but Miranda convinces her father to give her a chance to tame and civilize him rather than using magic to take the information by force. It is the beginning of a friendship that will change the way that we see Caliban.

The concept that history is told by the victors and that the story from the other side may be quite different is a familiar one in fantasy. Numerous authors have tackled famous tales through the eyes of a so-called villain, even Carey herself has done it before with her Sundering duology, which essentially tells the Lord of the Rings from the perspective of Sauron (thinly disguised, of course). Though many of these books are entertaining, they all have the same problem – we know what happens in the end.

In the case of “Miranda and Caliban,” that makes the book enjoyable, but a little more sedate than it might have been. It’s hard to ratchet up tension about a character’s peril when we know that character survives. For example, there is a portion of the story where Miranda is seriously injured. It’s necessary for Carey’s purposes, but we never have the fear that she might not recover.

As all good books of this type do, “Miranda and Caliban” paints a very different picture than Prospero’s side of the story in Shakespeare’s tale. We find that Caliban’s tale is more tragic than villainous, and Prospero is a bit unbalanced and far more obsessed with his vengeance than the welfare of his daughter.

Carey doesn’t spend a lot of time with the events that Shakespeare has already covered. The tempest itself doesn’t occur until near the end of the book, and she only hits the high points, glossing over much of what occurred in the original play. The story is, after all, “Miranda and Caliban,” and the arrival of Ferdinand is effectively the end of their story.

I did feel that Ariel was a bit underused in it all. I was fascinated by the trickster spirit and his uncomfortable relationship with Caliban and would like to have seen that developed a little more. He remains a bit of a mystery, but perhaps that’s for the best as it maintains his mystique.

As always, Carey’s storytelling and language are outstanding, though I do think she tried to borrow a bit too much from Shakespeare at times instead of telling the story in her own lyrical voice. I can say, a bit tongue in cheek, that I don’t care if I ever hear the word “mayhap” again. Mayhap it’s because it’s archaic and stands out, but it seemed to me that Carey used it a couple of times on every page in the early going. Eventually, it faded into the narrative, though.

While “Miranda and Caliban” isn’t my favorite of Carey’s works, it’s an interesting tale of magic and romance that, ultimately, does what she set out to do. I can guarantee that you’ll not read “The Tempest” with the same eye again.


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