By: Linda Fisher
Reviewed by: Peter Huggins
Royal Fireworks Press, 2007
When well done, historical novels are great fun. A Will of Her Own, a young adult historical novel set in London on April 23-24, 1589, is great fun. Fifteen-year-old Lady Lucinda Culpeper is intent on becoming an actor, but only males are allowed to act in plays in Elizabethan England. Lucinda transforms herself into Luke and with the help of her cousin Thomas, a part-time actor and full-time spy, gets an audition.
The company she auditions for has among its players a just turned twenty-five-year-old actor/playwright named Will Shakespeare, suitably decked out with longish black hair and gold earring—in short, a pirate. Will, writing a play about mistaken identity, The Comedy of Errors, and Luke/Lucinda uncover and foil a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. The plot turns on various cases of mistaken identity and deliciously echoes The Comedy of Errors, a device which enhances the fun. Despite Will’s status as a married man, Lucinda finds herself attracted to him and hopes for further adventures so she will not be forced into marriage with her father’s repulsive assistant Lord Winter.
Sword play and word play abound, and the novel moves with the precision and suppleness of a fencing match. Fisher has made her first-person narrative convincing and believable, and I never once felt the engaging, charming, and strong-willed Luke/Lucinda would not have done or said what she did or said. No wonder Will likes her and probably sees through and appreciates her disguise. Interestingly, the age difference between Will and Lucinda is about the same as that in Will’s marriage except that Will is the younger one in his marriage and is the father of twins, one male and one female.
While Fisher has done an admirable job of recreating the atmosphere of late Elizabethan London, I am a bit troubled by the characterization of Sir Francis Walsingham as one who hunted out traitors when the Elizabethan world often functioned as a police state, including the use of torture. I also wonder about Lucinda’s use of the calling card. Such cards were probably not in use in England until a century later although they were used in China in the 1500s and in the French court in the 1600s. Nevertheless, this novel is indeed great fun, and I hope that Lucinda will have further adventures with Will.
Peter Huggins is the author of four books of poems, including the forthcoming South; a picture book, Trosclair and the Alligator; and a forthcoming middle-grade novel, In the Company of Owls.