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Summary

A dramatic new departure for international best-selling author Bernard Cornwell, Fools and Mortals takes us into the heart of the Elizabethan era, long one of his favourite periods of British history.

Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry - and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory - propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

Showcasing his renowned storyteller's skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal: you walk the London streets, stand in the palaces and are onstage in the playhouses as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue.

©2017 Bernard Cornwell (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic reviews

"Like Game of Thrones, but real." ( The Observer)
"Blood, divided loyalties and thundering battles." ( The Times)
"Strong narrative, vigorous action and striking characterisation, Cornwell remains king of the territory he has staked out as his own." ( The Sunday Times)

What members say

Average customer ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Not quite in love with this Shakespeare

Bernard Cornwell is pretty much at the pinnacle of my personal list of military history authors. His Sharpe, Starbuck Chronicles and Lost Kingdom series have been great sources of entertainment for me. This is a massive departure though and was possibly always going to happen given Cornwell's love of theatre and Shakespeare in particular.

Unlike some other recent examples of my favourite authors heading off on a tangent I genuinely enjoyed this. The viewpoint that Cornwell chooses is Richard who is William Shakespeare's younger, better looking but rather less fortunate brother. It's through his needy and almost desperate need to succeed as a player that Cornwell portrays the precarious nature of the life of a young player in Elizabethan England.

There is much detail about the theatre and its workings with the first performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream forming the core of the plot. Interwoven with this are a love story, a tale of rival actors including one Will Kemp and a plot of sabotage by a rival company to complete the drama.

So, I enjoyed it but I wouldn't give it absolutely top billing. The period has been very heavily covered and those who enjoy this style of book will likely not find too much that's new or better here. There's plenty of charm but it lacks a real x factor with a plot that's just a bit too mild mannered and predictable despite the odd snippet of violence. At times it felt slightly flat to me but it does gain momentum through the second half.

So, definitely a worthy effort but while he masterfully strides the battlefields of history Cornwell has a distance to go before he can claim to lord it over Elizabethan society.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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A real disappointment

Should have read the synopsis, just saw the authors name, and purchase!
The author has created a story around the production of a Mid Summer Nights Dream, and the life of a group of thespians.
The plot was contrived , the characters were un engaging , as a consequence the story died a slow and painful death.
The reader had a very irritating inflection in his delivery, I can best describe as if each sentence was an enquiry.
Best thing I can say about this experience is I have learned a lesson.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Refreshingly different!

Loved this from Cornwell. Such a brave shift from the conventional battlefield to the theatrical one! Such characters and characterisation from the narrator really give life to the world of the Elizabethan theatre. Absolute brilliance!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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way off being good

this was like a very poor story weaved into a students report on a midsummer's night dream. with large parts of the book copied and pasted for bill Shakespeares homework. c- at best

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Great story.

Great story and an interesting departure from the normal fare of one of my favourite authors.

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  • Dr
  • East Horsley, United Kingdom
  • 28-08-18

Outstanding

This is a delight, Shakespeare in love but told by a younger brother
It’s genius

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Not your typical Cornwell novel

I've read virtually everything Mr Cornwell has written, apart from this novel and Redcoat, both of which I've started but been unable to finish. Two chapters into this novel and I neither care about the characters or the plot which is weak to say the least.
Couldn't recommend this to anyone who's enjoyed Cornwell's previous work. It may develop into the greatest novel of all time but the first chapters are so dull i haven't the slightest inclination to find out.

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rip roaring adventure with a twist

An excellent book weaving history with imagination. I loved it as you are transferred back to Elizabethan London

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very gripping

excellent story, well paced, wishing there was more, hopefully a sequel or series to follow

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Falls between two stools

As my headline says, this book falls between two stools: if you are interested in the plays, as opposed to Shakespeare's life, the book will give you nothing new and, indeed, becomes irritating with its description of plots and snatches of quotation. If you are not interested in Shakespeare I don't think the book will encourage you to plunge in and become an ardent fan. The bits about life in London are good, though.

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  • luke
  • 01-11-17

A Solid Performance

This is in true Cornwell fashion--without the swords or guns...A well-structured and well-told story. But then he always tells a good story. You always empathise with his characters and you will here as well. This will not disappoint if you are a Cornwell fan.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful