I’ve been in the mood for Shakespeare re-tellings lately. Got my hands on the ARCs of Mona Awad’s All’s Well that Ends Well influenced novel All’s Well, and Samantha Cohoe’s Bright Ruined Things, which is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Both of these books are well written, and I would highly recommend.
Mona Awad, author of Bunny, responder to my tweet, and all-around amazing writer, has proven her mettle once more with an astounding magical realism novel that will make you feel all the feelings on the spectrum of feelings if you have a soul featuring has-been actress, current perpetually unwell acting director at a small university Miranda Fitch.
Miranda Fitch was a beautiful actress giving generally well-received performances in the Shakespeare oeuvre, in the midst of the dramatic bloody hands scene in Macbeth when she accidentally fell off of the stage and damaged her back. Since that moment, her life has been a torment. She is in terrible, constant, debilitating pain, with few to no allies. The doctors she goes to cannot find a source for the pain, the physical therapists make it worse, and some of the people in her life seem to think she is making it up for attention or that she might feel better if she’d just adopt a more chipper attitude or that she has maybe crossed the line between sanity and madness. The fact that Miranda pops pills the way my toddler eats candy, and is so focused on her internal self that she sometimes misses people and events until she is no longer able to avoid them makes the reader unclear about exactly what is happening.
Miranda is pitiable – there is no other way to describe her. She is pitiable, and it is difficult to spend time with her, in her unending and unendurable existence of pain and unhappiness. One night, however, she happens upon three unusual men in a bar, and a web of magic begins to furl itself around Miranda and those around her. As Miranda’s life changes, she realizes that she is a caught in a web bigger than illness, bigger than love, and that lives and souls are at stake. Miranda is forced to confront herself, and to determine what is most important to her and how she wants to live her life… or what’s left of it.
This book took longer for me to become invested in than Bunny. It is, frankly, just very difficult to spend that much time reading about, and thereby empathizing with, someone else’s pain. Particularly when you’re not exactly certain if the pain is real, or if there is mental illness causing Miranda to feel a phantom of something that no longer exists. Awad’s writing, however, is always spectacular, her skillful craft thrumming through each line. And once Miranda does begin to think about other things, the pace of the novel picks up at a manic pace that will leave you marveling at the author’s skill and desperate to know what happens next.
Slated for release August 3, 2021. I highly recommend that you pre-order from an indie bookstore so you can get your hands on a copy ASAP.
Samantha Cohoe, from my cursory search of her website, seems to write YA novels. Her debut novel was A Golden Fury; I have not read it, but it has a Goodreads rating of 3.67, and is about a girl who is a talented alchemist trying to create the philosopher’s stone, which has caused her mother to go insane. Bright Ruined Things, on the other hand, is a story that primarily takes place on an island filled with magical beings whom the paternal figure (whom we will call “Poppa Prosper” in this blog post, although most of the characters in the novel call him grandfather because they are unimaginative and don’t like alliteration) has bound to get them to create a fuel called aether that has replaced gasoline.
The Prospers are a powerful and wealthy family, but our story is told by May, the orphan girl the family adopted when her father begged Poppa Prosper to take care of her from his (father’s) deathbed. May has never left the island, and she doesn’t want to – it is her home, and she is trying to stay quiet about the fact that she’s 18 and figure out a way to learn magic so that she can be useful to the family and Poppa Prosper will keep her around.
As the story opens, the Prosper family who live off the island all return for First Night, an annual celebration of the first time that Poppa Prosper tamed the spirits on the island. If you keep wanting to read Bright Ruined Things as Bright Young Things, you are not alone – I keep mis-typing the title, and I think this may have been done on purpose, given that the time period during which this novel is set and this fabulous party is slated to occur is the 1920s. The environment is wealthy, glamorous, on the cusp of ripe and spoiling. Something is happening to the spirits that no one has ever encountered before, and as May investigates, she is forced to confront the reality of her beloved island and the source of the Prospers’ wealth, and learns about herself and what she is willing to do for the love and power she has desired for her entire life.
Slated for release October 26, 2021, I also recommend this book, particularly if you are a fan of YA fantasy.