There is so much going on in this book. You have your main cast of leading Shakespearean characters (Hamlet, Juliet, Romeo to name a few), throw them into a bizarre underworld filled with Norse mythology, Greek mythology, and elements of Celtic mythology and Jewish mythology and what you have is a mess. But it's a really interesting mess.
Valkyries, Frost Giants, Fire Giants, the Washerwoman, the Norns, Fenrir, the Sirens, berserkers, shades. You name it, you've got it. This book also takes a liberal interpretation with its Shakespearean characters, too. This is not to say that the characters were horrible, they're not: but neither do they feel authentic.
It takes Romeo's worst qualities and amplifies them, his anger, his impetuousness are amped up to the nth degree. I absolutely loved the character of Juliet in this book...the problem is that she's not Juliet. She is a Shakespearean heroine who all of a sudden becomes a sword-wielding, kick-assing character out of fucking nowhere. Juliet's got spunk. I loved her character in this book, but she is just not William Shakespeare's Juliet!
This was truly not a terrible book by any means. It doesn't have a single one of the tropes that I hate so much in YA fiction, and it is light on the romance. Hell, despite my fear at some points that there would be a little hmm-hmm going on between Juliet and Hamlet, there was no love triangle at all.
So why did I give it a 2? Simple. The book itself was just way, way too ambitious. It is a very, very interesting premise---but it ultimately lost its focus on the main plot. This book far overreached itself.
The Summary: It is days after Juliet's death. Romeo is sick, ill from the poison he has ingested. Furthermore, he is sick in spirit. He is heartbroken. His beloved wife, Juliet, is dead, and he will do nothing to get her back.
Romeo consults a witch, a Strega. She tells him that Juliet is stuck in hell. Her soul is in torment.
His Juliet stood before him, or at least, the shape of her, frozen in blood, monochromatic crimson, but unmistakably her. Thick chains bound her across neck and waist; manacles clasped her wrists. Her eyes were the worst of all, open, bloody, blank and unseeing, yet somehow still accusing.
Romeo is desperate to rescue her. The witch tells him that the person he seeks is in the North. She gives him a cryptic clue:
“You must go north. You will find the man who can help you there.”
“Farther. Farther than you have ever traveled. Over the mountains, to a castle by the sea. The seat of a murdered king.”
The man Romeo seeks is Hamlet.
Hamlet sits in a pub in Denmark. He is drowning his sorrows the best way he knows how: by drinking himself silly. His mother is getting married to his uncle the day after tomorrow, and he knows that his father has been murdered. His father's ghost has come back to talk to him, the late King Hamlet warned his son of his uncle's treachery, and tasks Hamlet with the charge of protecting the corpseway.
What is the corpseway? It is a passage into the underworld.
...the unearthly portal that divided the realm of the living and the dead.
Against all odds, Romeo finds Hamlet. They don't exactly get along at first. Romeo is distrustful of this drunken prince. Hamlet suspects Romeo of being in league with his uncle---who else knows that his father has been murdered. Finally, they overcome their differences: together, Hamlet and Romeo descend into the corpseway, down into the Underworld.
What they find there isn't exactly Hell. It is the Underworld, only not the Underworld they imagined. It is Valhalla. It is Sheol, it is Hades, among others. There, they find lost souls, creatures from many mythologies, bizarre monsters---and Juliet.
And this is where the book lost me. I wish I could tell you that there was a point to this book that I could put together to tell you in one sentence to end my "summary" section.
It is just a journey through the underworld. It is action-filled, it is pretty interesting at times, but it was just completely pointless; the point is to rescue Juliet...but this book seems to be an exercise of in aimless extravagance because there is so much going on without a visible purpose.
The Plot: Filled with holes. There are so many unanswered questions. For example, just from the beginning of the book...
- How the FUCK did Romeo and Friar Laurence travel all the way from Verona to Denmark?
- How in all the living hell did Romeo find out about Hamlet in the first place? Verona is a long fucking way from Denmark.
- How the fuck do they communicate so well? Romeo only speaks Italian. Hamlet learned Italian at University, but as I very well know, it is one thing to learn a language, it is an entirely different thing to SPEAK it. They communicate flawlessly. I don't believe it.
Deus ex fucking machina: There is so much of this going on in this book. Whenever something inconvenient happens that places them in danger, they get through it just by sheer fucking luck. Romeo about to die? OH NO PROBLEM, THE MONSTERS ABOUT TO KILL HIM WAS JUST AN ILLUSION!
But they were gone, the hillside, too. Romeo found himself in a strange, barren wasteland.
He was alone.
HAMLET'S ABOUT TO DIE! LET'S END THE CLAPTER ON A CLIFFHANGER.
He plunged into the spectral river on the maggot’s back, and when it surfaced, screaming its rage from its horrible, rotting mouth, he saw through the portal.
And he knew Romeo would not save him.
A chapter later, oh, why there he is, reappearing out of thin air.
All safe and sound with no explanation whatsoever. HOW THE FUCK?!
The three of them get separated. Despite the vastness of the multi-tiered Underworld, they always manage to find each other again. They go from one version of an Underworld to the next, from Valhalla to Sheol to Hades, with pretty much the snap of a finger. There is no transition, there is no subtlety.
Romeo: This book utilizes Romeo's worst qualities: his grand, romantic gestures, his impetuousness, his youth, his anger. Romeo is SO angry throughout the book. Despite his need for Hamlet's aid, he keeps snapping at him. He keeps blaming him for dragging Hamlet into the mess that Romeo wanted to go into in the first place.
“I don’t care!” Romeo could not hold back his anger any longer. “You’re mad, and I’m a fool for letting you lead me here.”
Romeo is bitter, he is self-pitying, he is a whiny git, and I wanted to punch his lights out. Hamlet feels much the same way.
Hamlet groaned. “Oh, stop pitying yourself. You were desperate and unhappy at home, you’re desperate and unhappy now. Nothing has changed, except that now we’re closer to your goal.”
He never, ever stops fucking whining. Hamlet isn't my favorite character in the world, but he has my compassion, because he actually tells Romeo to, well, shut the fuck up and grow some balls.
“Have you listened to a word you’ve said? You’re miserable without your true love, and you’ve come here to find her. You are closer to rescuing a loved one from death than any man has ever been, and now all you’re doing is complaining.”
Hamlet: Well, to be fair, Hamlet is kind of intolerable sometimes. He is by far the most level-headed of the two, but he has a few inappropriately snarky moments where he could be a leeeeeeeettle more sensitive to poor Romeo. They're plunged from the normal world into Valhalla, they're about to get stabbed by a Frost Giant. Naturally, it's neither a good place nor time to make light of things.
“I thought you said it wasn’t terrifying!” Romeo shouted, his eyes wide with fear.
Hamlet shrugged. The bastard actually shrugged as he lay there on the stone. Romeo would have punched him, but there were more pressing matters at hand than the prince’s maddening attitudes.
Yeah, I'd say so!
Hamlet is rather nonchalant about things. He is TOO chill sometimes. Like stepping through a portal to the world of the dead is nothing at all. It's just the Underworld, maaaaaaan.
“I don’t know. I never stepped completely through the corpseway.” Hamlet’s thought trailed off as he moved through the light, sliding his feet cautiously along the floor. “Seems safe enough. Come on.”
Oh, it SEEMS safe enough. Well, that's just fucking dandy now.
Oh, and HOW do you know that the corpseway is safe for humans to travel through, Hamlet?
“I stuck my head in,” Hamlet argued. “It came out again. And my father’s ghost was able to traverse the corpseway. I see no reason that it might not work exactly as I’ve described.”
That makes perfect sense.
Juliet: My favorite character in the book---and the most inconsistently portrayed. This Juliet is NOTHING like Shakespeare's Juliet.
Don't get me wrong, Juliet is pretty kick-ass. She confronts Hamlet and Romeo with the cold, hard fafcts of their idocy in their knight-who-say-NI quest to rescue her.
“Was there no way to find out, before you did this to me?” Juliet asked, her large brown eyes full of hurt. “The two of you never thought that a bit more preparation might have been required before tampering with the forces of life and death?”
She can wield a sword, but HOW THE FUCK?
Juliet proved tireless with her blade, to Hamlet’s surprise and delight. He could not imagine the ladies of his uncle’s court taking such bloodthirsty delight in defeating monsters.
Well, that's just awesome, but HOW?! How the fuck did Juliet learn to wield a sword so capably? She has not been fighting in the underworld, she has been a prisoner, chained, suffering from partial amnesia. In life, she was a pampered, loved noblewoman. How the FUCK did she get so competent?
But Romeo had seen this fire in her from the very instant they’d met, though it had been only a small spark then. Set among the tinder of conflict, she was now ablaze.
I love Juliet in this book, I really do, but this is not Juliet!
Well, not really.
Cause we're in Valhalla. We go into the Afterjord. We meet the Valkyries. We meet Berserkers, Frost Giants, Lava Giants. Fenrir, Odin's ravens (who are really cute). There are the Nordic Norns (the Fates). And then we meet the Irish Washerwoman, who launders the clothes of the people who died. And then we're in Sheol, with the Shades. And then we're in some Greek mythology, with pretty pretty sirens. Then we're in some hall with maggot men. Some of the monsters are pretty gruesome, and awesomely so.
The cloth fell away from the thing’s face, revealing no eyes, no nose, just the sightless, round countenance of a maggot and a circular mouth full of teeth in endless rings.
But it's just way, way too fucking much because as entertaining as it is, the plot is completely lost in it.
The Romance: No love triangle, thankfully. I found the romance to be completely acceptable here, although I did disagree with the portrayal of Ophelia (a character who barely appears) as a marriage-mad chick. I was afraid that there would be a love triangle...
Something in Juliet’s voice bothered Romeo. There was a smirk to her tone that was too comfortable with the prince. She spoke the way she had spoken to Romeo that night at her father’s party.
But thankfully, this book was without.
Overall: a solid, entertaining book that just completely fell short on the plot.