Prince of Sorrows by D.K Marley, author of Blood and Ink, provides a unique perspective in this adaptation of Hamlet. Marley took on quite the challenge when she chose to adapt such a well-know play. There will hardly be a reader who doesn’t already know the story. She faced that challenge head-on and did a marvelous job. The details provided for the sake of historical accuracy and those provided for character development felt natural to the story. It is often easy in adaptation to create new details that take the reader out of the story for a moment. Unnecessary new details make the reader question the decision rather than enjoy the story. I never had a moment like this as I read Prince of Sorrows.
The setting is, of course, Denmark in the ninth century with some names changed for the sake of authenticity. It is immediately clear to anyone who decides to read this historical fiction that Marley puts a significant amount of work into researching her settings. The reader is immediately thrown into a time and place they would otherwise not have known and feel comfortable exploring this world. Not only was the historical detail provided compelling, it also felt organic to the original play, which is critical when adapting a well-known piece.
The story is primarily told from the point of view of Amleth (Hamlet) giving the reader even more insight into the mind of the Danish Prince. In the play, he doesn’t really hide his feelings much, but we don’t quite know how all of the wheels are turning. In Prince of Sorrows, we do. We get to see Amleth’s descent into paranoia as is plans unfold. One of the most compelling aspects was how this insight caused us to question Amleth’s reliability as a narrator. This is called into question because we, the reader, know more than Amleth does. We get glimpses into the minds and hearts of other characters, such as his mother and uncle. By gaining these brief insights, tension is able to build in the reader’s mind even though they likely know how the story will end.
In the world of Shakespeare adaptation, this deserves a place among the best of them. Marley created a world that was organic to the original plot, while providing new details that kept tension high. Even those more familiar with Hamlet than most will find something new to enjoy in this adaptation. It is difficult to make a well-known story feel new and interesting, but Marley did this with flying colors. I encourage anyone with an interest in Shakespeare and historical fiction to give this new book a try.
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