Susan Cooper,
King Of Shadows
(Simon & Schuster, 1999)

King of Shadows is an enjoyable new children's book by Susan Cooper, author of the award-winning The Dark Is Rising children's fantasy series. This tale of time travel and theatre provides an adventure for both boys and girls, and is aimed at ages 10-14.

Nat Field, from Greenville, North Carolina, is part of a theatre troupe put together to perform Shakespeare "as it was originally performed." At least, this is what Arby, the director and impresario of The Company of Boys, wants to happen. Nat is playing Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Pindarus in Julius Caesar -- at least, until he becomes ill while the Company is in England preparing for their performance in the restored Globe Theatre.

When he awakens from his illness, Nat has been mysteriously transported back in time to Shakespeare's day, where he is playing Puck as well. Confused, Nat goes along with everyone around him, and is brought to meet Shakespeare and his company of players. Here, Nat learns that he, or rather the original Nat Field, is on loan to the company from a private boys school. Without worrying about how he will get back to his proper time, Nat falls into the rounds of rehearsals and plays.

However, he does make mistakes. He gives the Heimlich maneuver to a choking boy, and is regarded as a witch by some for this rescue. He grows close to Shakespeare, close enough to confess his sadness at losing his parents. Shakespeare becomes almost a surrogate parent to young Nat, who reminds him of Hamnet, his own lost son.

In the end, Nat returns home, as strangely as he arrived, to discover less about magic and more about himself and Arby, the mysterious director. Cooper has portrayed Shakespeare in a way that makes him attractive to children of this age, though this book was not quite as riveting as The Dark Is Rising series. I found this book enjoyable as an adult, though perhaps I would have liked it better as a younger reader. King of Shadows is a good children's book and a worthy outing by Susan Cooper.

[ by Beth Derochea ]

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