Harry Turtledove

"Ruled Britannia"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple JAN 29, 2003)

"Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges."

Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove

Groaning under Spanish rule for ten years, ever since England failed to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588, the London citizens in this alternative history must endure the Inquisition, the imprisonment of their unfortunate Queen Elizabeth in the Tower of London, the threats of Irish barbarians hired as thugs and enforcers by the Spanish occupiers, and the country's constant sense of uncertainty, born of religious and political turmoil.

The pageantry and spectacle of an auto-da-fe, both awe-inspiring and terrifying, open this novel, its horrors made real by the cry of a condemned man, begging for aid from an acquaintance in the mob, William Shakespeare, who can do nothing to help, and whose own life is endangered by the man's pitiful appeals.

Shakespeare here is a hero at the height of his powers as an actor and playwright. Sharing one-third of a room in a boarding house, eating and writing by firelight in a pub, dealing with the egos of his acting company, and associating with people from all walks of society--from mysterious characters like Nick Skeres and the 'witch' Cicely Sellis, to Francis Bacon and Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil)--Shakespeare is the pivot around whom all the action revolves.

In counterpoint to him is Lt. Lope de Vega, an unpublished Spanish playwright, sent to infiltrate Shakespeare's theater and its productions and unmask any traitors to Spanish rule.

When Lord Burghley secretly hires Shakespeare to write a play called Boudicca, planned as a call to the populace to throw off their Spanish yoke and avenge themselves, Shakespeare finds himself in mortal danger--he has also been hired by the Spanish to write a play in honor of Philip II, the dying Spanish king, a play to be produced as soon as Philip dies. Writing and rehearsing both plays simultaneously with a less than reliable troupe, Shakespeare must walk a fine line to avoid discovery as the mood in London becomes increasingly threatening.

Writing in the language and style of the period, author Turtledove casually (and very skillfully) incorporates innumerable Shakespearean quotations into his text, often with humorous intent. Puns, the off-color wordplay which so often provides comic relief in Shakespeare's plays, dialogue in which characters talk at cross-purposes, and a character who constantly misuses "big words," are a delight for any language-lover and admirer of the Bard.

Quotations from Shakespeare's Boudicca, which feel like quotations from a new and undiscovered authentic work, are brilliantly crafted from works of the period by Shakespeare and several contemporaries, and the opening night of that play is a stunning literary coup by Turtledove.

All the talk and intrigue do lead to a plot which is a bit thin and short on action--until the bang-up conclusion, filled with arquebuses, rapiers, poleaxes, pikes, and even chamberpots. Lovers of language will thrill at Turtledove's achievement here, even while wishing, perhaps, that the book were a hundred pages shorter.

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Short Stories:

Videssos Series:

Gerin the Fox Series:

Worldwar Series (alternative history):

The Great War Series (parallel worlds):

The Derlevai Darkness Series:

War Between the Provinces Series:

Hellenistic Seafaring Adventure Series (written as as H.N. Turteltaub):

Days of Infamy:

Crosstime Traffic novels:

Opening of the World Series:

Atlantis Series:

Writing as Dan Chernenko:

Originally written as Eric Iverson

  • Wereblood (1970)*
  • Werenight (1979)*

* Wereblood and Werenight were combined and released in 1994 as Werenight under his own name. Then Werenight was combined with Prince of the North and released as Wisdom of the Fox in 1990. Then King of the North and Fox and Empire were combined and released as Tale of the Fox in 2000.


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About the Author:

Harry TurtledoveHarry Turtledove was born in Los Angeles, CA on 14 June 1949. After failing out of his freshman year at Caltech, he attended UCLA, where he received a Ph.D. in Byzantine history in 1977. He published his first two novels, Wereblood and Werenight in 1979 under a pseudonym because his publisher didn't think anyone would believe that Turtledove was his name and thought something Nordic would be better. He used the Iverson pseudonym until 1985.

Throughout the later '70's and early '80's, In the 1980's, Turtledove worked as a technical writer for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. In 1991, he left the LACOE and turned to writing full time. From 1986-1987, he served as the Treasurer for the Science Fiction Writers of America.

As a science fiction & fantasy author, he is best known for writing alternate history. He has won the HOMer Award for a 1990 Short Story, John Esthen Cook Award for Southern Fiction in 1993 for his novel Guns of the South. He his a Hugo Award and Nebula Award winner for various short fictions and has received several honorable mentions for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

He is married to mystery writer Laura Frankos and they have three daughters. His brother-in-law is fantasy author Steven Frankos.

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