Harry Turtledove,
Ruled Britannia
(New American, 2002)

In Ruled Britannia, acknowledged master of alternate history Harry Turtledove turns to Elizabethan England to ask "What if?"

What if the Spanish Armada wasn't defeated and instead invaded England successfully? In Turtledove's answer, the state religion is Roman Catholicism and the English Inquisition zealously hunts down heretics. Queen Elizabeth is imprisoned in the Tower of London and Queen Isabella and King Albert sit on the throne in her stead. In Spain, King Philip is dying slowly, and a young English playwright by the name of Will Shakespeare is commissioned to write a play glorifying Philip's life.

At the same time, however, young Will is also writing another commissioned play intended to inspire his countrymen to overthrow their conquerors upon word of Philip's death. One of these plays will be performed when the Spanish monarch dies, but the question remains: which one? Fully aware of the consequences to himself and his players should they be discovered, Will must also cope with Lope de Vega, who is assigned to make sure the play about Philip progresses suitably. The amiable Spaniard is also a playwright, and his oversight of Shakespeare's work is both genial and sharp.

Turtledove brings Shakespeare's world alive with vivid images, pungent language and precise descriptions, expressed through characters that seem to walk right off the page. The suspense builds to a climax that rings so true that the reader forgets that the armada was defeated. Shakespeare buffs will be delighted to find references and lines from Shakespeare's plays scattered throughout the book.

The story draws the reader in right from the beginning and doesn't let go until the last page. Harry S. Turtledove's Ruled Britannia definitely rules!

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 3 May 2003

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