Carolyn Cushman Reviews The Queen’s Bargain by Anne Bishop and Shakespeare for Squirrels by Christopher Moore

Anne Bishop, The Queen’s Bargain (Ace 978-1-9848-0662-8, $27.00, 414pp, hc) March 2020.

Bishop returns to her popular Black Jewels series with an eighth novel that picks up with the surviving main characters a few years later. The issues of sexual power and abuse remain prominent, but they get a couple of new twists here, with the introduction of a young Warlord, Lord Dillon, who was promised marriage and used sexually by a young aristo witch who then denied her promise and ruined his reputation. Dillon has to flee from rumors and cruel women who see him as easy prey, and eventually ends up in Ebon Rih, determined to get his own back by using some young witch. Unaware of just how powerful and important – and protective – the local leaders are, he targets a member of Lucivar Yaslana’s household. At the same time, Daemon Sadi’s marriage to Surreal is falling apart. She says his sexual heat is out of control, but he’s sure it’s not. Daemon’s first wife, Jaenelle (the incredibly powerful Witch) has been dead and gone for years, but there are hints she foresaw this problem. Overall, the tone of this novel is relatively low key, almost domestic, with children’s misunderstandings and small crimes taking almost as much space as the larger issues, and lots of love and caring displayed. It’s a pleasure to return to this intriguing world of sex-role reversals and deadly protagonists, and see how they’ve managed without Witch, but this lacks the punch of some of the earlier books.

Christopher Moore, Shakespeare for Squirrels (Morrow 978-0-06243402-9, $28.99, 271pp, hc) May 2020. Cover by Nathan Burton.

Moore’s love for Shakespeare makes itself felt in this rambunctious interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, here turned into something of a murder mystery with the addition of the fool Pocket, protagonist of previous novels Fool and The Serpent of Venice. He and his dim apprentice Drool and monkey Jeff, set adrift by pirates, wash up on the shore of ”a very mythical 14th-century Athens” which has Pocket a bit bemused, since he’s seen a bit of ancient Greek pottery, and this is nothing like. He and his companions wander into the forest, encountering some earnest but inept players calling their troupe ”The Mechanicals,” a boastful fellow named Puck, and an officer of the watch with a bad case of malapropism harking back to Much Ado About Nothing. Unfortunately, Puck ends up murdered, Drool’s stuck in jail, Jeff’s gone missing, and various people in power want Pocket to work for them. Pocket heads back into the forest in hopes of figuring out what’s going on in time to save his pals, and gets tangled up with Shakespeare’s young lovers, Titania and her fairies, the ass-headed wanna-be actor Bottom, and, yes, squirrels, but these are special squirrels. Moore’s got a witty way with the language, twisting together actual bits of Shakespeare (from many works) with more modern obscenities and lots of irreverent and beyond-bawdy humor. Not for the faint-of-heart or easily offended, but lots of fun, particularly for those with a fondness for Shakespeare.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This review and more like it in the June 2020 issue of Locus.

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