Title: Beatrice and Benedick
Author: Marina Fiorato
Provided Synopsis: When nineteen-year-old Beatrice is brought to live at her uncle’s court in Sicily to be a companion to his daughter, she first meets Benedick, a young soldier who is there with a Spanish lord on a month-long sojourn. As they begin to wage their war of wit, their words mask their deep love for one another. But the pair are cruelly parted by misunderstanding and slander. Heartbroken, Benedick sails to England on the ill-fated Spanish Armada. Beatrice returns to her home in the North and an unwanted betrothal. While Benedick must fight for his life on board ship, Beatrice fights for her freedom from an arranged marriage.
From the point of view of Beatrice and Benedick we hear the lovers tell their own story, taking us from the sunlit southern courts of Sicily, to the crippled Armada on the frozen northern seas, to the gorgeous Renaissance cities of the north.
Review: With no disrespect meant to Claudio and Hero, when most people think of the play Much Ado About Nothing they think about the lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Through their quips to one another it can easily be read that there is a history to these two, and Marina Fiorato uses her imagination to describe just what that story might be. Do not think of this as only a retelling, however, for this incredibly well written book also features significant moments in 16th Century history while simultaneously weaving in the story of the bard, Shakespeare.
Beatrice and Benedick meet for the first time at the Sicilian home of her cousin, Hero, for a month’s celebration of the Ascension. Drawn together and torn apart by each other’s tongues, the two go on to engage in a game ever searching for the truth of feelings while also struggling over who is to be the victor. I had not read the play in a long time, but I was able to easily imagine this as how things could have been between these characters, particularly because I think Fiorato was able to get the characterizations correct. I felt for both of them; and when a misunderstanding forced them apart, I was convinced my interest in the book would wane. After all, I wanted to read about these two — together.
But Fiorato goes on to do an interesting thing: she shifts Benedick to Spain, where he becomes swept up in the Spanish Armada. I have not read much about the Armada, and found myself riveted with the details of the preparations, the hubris, and the destruction. Beatrice, meanwhile, must return home to Verona, where she continues to grow as a woman who sees herself in her own right. Here, another play of Shakespeare comes into play as well, which really goes on to make the reader think of how all of these stories could be connected if the theory used by the author is correct. Like I said before, do not only think of this as a retelling because there is some rich history and theory presented here.
In conclusion, I would highly recommend this story, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction, or an admirer of the bard’s plays. I had not read Much Ado in some time, and that did not negatively affect my experience with this if that is a concern to you. The references to the play are, of course, present, though this book works just as well as a story of love.