A stand alone SF book where Shakespeare is the Historian and not the Bard. The final book in my Once Upon A Time challenge.

Publication year: 1974
Page count: 230
Format: print
Publisher: Ballantine Books

Prince Rupert of the Rhine is a stout supporter of King Charles I in the English Civil War and Rupert’s a terror to Cromwell’s forces who consider him a demon. Still, he’s captured by Sir Malachi Shelgrave and kept secretly a prisoner in Shelgrave’s house. Shelgrave is interested in all things mechanical, just like Rupert, and together they examine Shelgrave’s locomotive. Rupert also meets Shelgrave’s young ward Jennifer and the youngsters are immediately attracted to each other.

Rupert’s loyal man Will Fairweather has followed his master and persuades Jennifer to help free Rupert. Even though Will is a Protestant, he respects the old spirits and fairies, and he brings Rupert and Jennifer before King Oberon and Queen Titania. The fairy monarchs offers to help King Charles’ cause because the Puritans are doing their best to stop the common folk from honoring the old spirits. After some hesitation, Rupert agrees, and the fairies give Jennifer and Rupert rings that will guide them as long as they remain faithful to each other, and send Rupert on a quest to find Prospero’s island where he should find magical items to help him.

Rupert and Will flee the Puritans, but Jennifer is caught my Shelgrave who sends her, a trustworthy priest, and eight guardians after the Prince.

First of all, I had some difficulty reading this book because of the dialog. Most of the characters speak in Shakespearian verse, there are some foreign characters who have their own accents, and Will also speaks in rather heavy accent: “Zo now you can heat tha shot at pleasure, my loard – theirs, I mean, for thoase ball-pates ‘ull glow red from tha breath o’ Hot Rupert, tha Dragon Prince, as I hear their scribblers ha’ named ye in their landlubbers’ broadzides.” Sometimes I had to say out loud the words to realize what he was saying.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this alternate history book. Making Shakespeare’s stories literally true was a great idea, as was adding steam technology to the story, and it was well done. Will is a hilarious, carefree character and a good contrast to the romantic hero, the brooding and gloomy young Rupert. Even Jennifer got to use her wits to escape her uncle’s clutches.

Near the middle of the book our heroes stay a night in the Old Phoenix which is a nexus for interdimensional travelers. Rupert and Will meet characters from different times and different Earths, and hear about the theory of traveling between the dimensions. I’m not entirely sure if it was needed but it’s a great added spice to an otherwise classic fantasy story (the quest with love interest, saving a king, etc).

Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Tempest are the plays which are mostly referenced here, and even king Arthur has a cameo.