Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: Still Star-Crossed - Melinda Taub

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub
Genre: YA, classic retelling, romance
Published on July 9, 2013
Published by Delacorte Press
Pages: 352
Read From: 9.11.13 - 9.15.13

Despite the "glooming peace" that has settled on Verona following Romeo's and Juliet's tragic deaths, the ancient grudge between the Montagues and Capulets refuses to die: the two houses are brawling in the streets again within a fortnight. Faced anew with "hate's proceedings," Prince Escalus concludes that the only way to marry the fortunes of these two families is to literally marry a Montague to a Capulet. But the couple he selects is uninterested in matrimony, for the most eligible Montague bachelor is Benvolio, still anguished by the loss of his friends, and the chosen Capulet maid of Rosaline, whose rejection of Romeo paved the way to bloodshed. In contrast to their late cousins, there's no love lost between these two, and so they find a common purpose: resolving the city's strife in a way that doesn't end with them at the altar. 
But like Romeo and Juliet before them, Rosaline, Benvolio, and the prince find that the path to peace is torturous, and that in Verona, true love lies where it's least expected.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I am not a big fan of the cover at all - it, in fact, almost put me off reading the book altogether. It screams romance and girly read and all those things that I really don't like. And while Romeo and Juliet isn't my favorite Shakespeare play, I was curious to see what a "what happened afterward" story would be like. So I ignored the cover and gave it a try.

Characters: I at first didn't care about anyone. As a matter of principle, I tend to not have an opinion either way about the characters of Romeo and Juliet, no matter who they are. So it was that when I first met Rosaline, I shrugged and said, "Eh, whatever." But it really didn't take long for Rosaline's spunky personality to win me over. She and her sister, Livia, have a strong-willed character that is both period appropriate and refreshing in a story that is made rather famous for its flighty females. Benvolio, too, started off as someone I really didn't care all that much about. The most sensible Montague youth in Verona, he showed enough potential as a character that I was willing to give him a bit more of a chance than Rosaline (I'm usually harder on female characters), but I still didn't really care about him. And like Rosaline, he grew on my affections very rapidly. Sensible and honorable, he was perhaps my most favorite male character in the entire story. On the flip side, Escalus began as someone I rather liked and then was less likable as the story progressed. At the same time, I appreciated his sticky situation. The ruler of Verona, Escalus is desperately trying to keep the Montagues and Capulets at peace with each other. He's willing to use desperate measures if it calls for it. I knew Escalus didn't want to, but as he continued to deal with Rosaline harshly and with deceit and manipulation, I liked him less and less. But then he redeems himself in the end, and I went back to liking him.

The Romance: Yes, there is a love triangle. Rosaline and Benvolio begin the story by hating each other. Their mutual dislike is perhaps a bit petty, as they each lay blame on the other for things that really weren't their fault, but it is also understandable. Benvolio has lost his two best friends and Rosaline is mourning her young cousin's death. But circumstances force them to work together, and they are both united in the fact that neither wants to marry the other. Besides, Rosaline could never Benvolio even if things were different between their families, for her heart belongs completely to Escalus. But as romance usually goes in stories like this, the more Rosaline gets to know Benvolio, the more she realizes that he truly is someone she could love. Especially given the cruel lies Escalus has recently used against Rosaline for his own ends. Surprisingly, though, the love triangle is not nearly as prominent or as annoying as one might think. Benvolio and Escalus are both very likable young men. Escalus has his up-and-down moments, but he really is a good person in the end. Rosaline is torn between the two young men, but she doesn't spend a lot of time bellyaching over it. There are far more important matters to attend; romance can wait. And Benvolio and Rosaline's attraction is gradual and feels genuine and deep, unlike many romances, so I actually became emotionally invested in what happened to them. In short, this is a love triangle that actually works.

Plot: With the deaths of young Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues and Capulets have promised their lord, Escalus, that they will set aside their blood feud. But someone is trying to stir up trouble between them again, and the truce will not last long. In an attempt to solidify it, Escalus forces his childhood friend and Juliet's cousin Rosaline of the Capulets to marry Benvolio of the Montagues, Romeo's boyhood friend. He prays that such a union will bring the two families together at last and see peace restored to Verona. But neither Rosaline nor Benvolio wants the marriage to take place. Before Juliet, Romeo pined for Rosaline, who spurned his attentions. Stricken with grief over his friend's death, Benvolio is convinced that if Rosaline had not turned Romeo away, the two tragic deaths would never have happened. And Rosaline has renounced marriage and wishes to join a convent, for her heart already belongs to another - a man she can never have due to her low station in life. United in their determination to break off their engagement, Rosaline and Benvolio agree to work together to discover who it is that is trying to stir up trouble between the Montagues and Capulets. But they are running out of time, as a masked man stalks the streets killing Montague and Capulet alike. Verona is once more on the verge of war, and it is up to them to fix it. Part of what makes Still Star-Crossed such a better story than Romeo and Juliet is it has a purpose; it has a real plot. Part mystery, part espionage, part political intrigue, this imaging of "what happened afterward" had my attention within 30 pages. I admit that at first I wasn't all that interested, simply because it had to do with Romeo and Juliet. But after that, I was very intrigued, as more twists were revealed and I became more and more invested in what happened to Rosaline and Benvolio. There were moments of frustration, when characters would take one step forward towards solving the mystery, and then two steps back, but it was a good kind of frustration. The villains are relatively easy to figure out after a while, but it is easy to see why the protagonists wouldn't see it as soon as the Reader does. It's, all in all, a great alternative for those who don't want to read Romeo and Juliet.

Believability: The Author notes that she is writing about Shakespeare's Italy, and is therefore not necessarily historically accurate the geography may not be realistic. I can accept that, especially since she acknowledged it in her note.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. I highly commend the Author for her astounding effort to copy Shakespeare's style while still making the story easy for the everyday Reader to understand. I was extremely impressed in this area. I also really enjoyed her little hidden references to Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. I challenge the Reader to find them.

Content: None.

Conclusion: When circumstances go horribly wrong for Benvolio and he is forced to flee, he and Rosaline discover that whoever is behind the attacks against the Montagues and Capulets has far greater ambitions than they initially thought. And if they don't act fast, it will be too late for Verona - and Escalus. The climax stays true to Romeo and Juliet in that it has a tragic end. But because it is also better than said play, the tragedy isn't pointless and just there for tragedy's sake. It is the sort of tragedy I enjoy: it creates a very bittersweet end, where things overall conclude very well, but with a bit of a dark shadow dampening it. I wasn't disappointed at all, and was downright impressed with this book.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fifteen-and-up, great for fans of Romeo and Juliet, as well as Readers who don't care for Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers story. I would recommend this to any of my anti-Romeo and Juliet friends in a heartbeat.

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