Monday, December 21, 2015

Reader's Review: "Once More Unto The Breach" by Jeffrey Cook et al.


Synopsis from Amazon
Welcome to the world of Shakespeare Goes Punk, where the Bard is remixed and nothing is sacred. Our fearless writers are back by popular demand to give you a ride on the punk train. Five punked-up tales and three sonnets inspired by Shakespeare. All profits to charity.  
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My Review:
 
For those of you who find the above cover image familiar, I am pleased to announce that "The Punks are at it again!!" 
If it's your first time considering the idea that Shakespeare plays could possibly have anything to do with modern speculative fiction... Go back to this review of Volume One and read that first! READ IT! YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT. It was glorious and absolutely stellar and even the "worst" among that first selection was fairly decent, as far as the narrative went.

As for this one—it unfortunately falls prey to the "sequel is never as good as the first one" phenomenon. Not merely because most of the chosen plays were more obscure than the last volume (but only slightly) but because only a few of them were actually treated well.
So here goes with the individual reviews:

As You Like It
I vaguely remembered reading this one in my "Tales from Shakespeare." While the application and the premise of dieselpunk fit well into the context of this story that involves cross-dressing and social injustice, I was still a bit miffed as I felt like the story rushed to get all the quotes from the play into it. There was just a lot of talking in this one, more than is usually found in a true story. I personally like to see development happen when the characters aren't saying anything, but this didn't happen very much. And the whole "bosses" thing wasn't defined very well, which gave a sort of nebulous "non-personage" to the Dukes of the original. The characters with names were rather okay, though. And I rather liked Litmus. If only he could have had more room to shine beyond the bounds and restrictions of Touchstone.

The Tragedy of Livingston (Coriolanus)
This was an unexpected twist on the adaptation front, since the author decided to leave the thing in script form. Hence it did not feel so much like an adaptation but more of simply a "word replacement exercise"... Much like the "clock punk sonnets" included at intervals. (I didn't really get those; there were only a few phrases changed, and they didn't add much to what the Bard had already written, so...) Being entirely unfamiliar with the story of Coriolanus, though, I must say that I did appreciate the application of the nanopunk genre: it really fit well into the interpretation of the events of the play. The script form just got a little boring after a while, because there were no clear descriptions of characters or actions; one might as well be listening to blank verse with a blindfold. This novelist needs word pictures, darn it!

Fae and Far Between (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Here is where the anthology really hit its stride. Midsummer Night's Dream is a familiar play, and I felt like the fairypunk adaptation really did it justice. I was drawn into the plot, entertained by the characters, and very much invested in a resolution to it all. The fact that once again it was a play where one of the characters was gender-swapped to create a homosexual relationship (the first occasion being As You Like It) did not escape my notice, but I could let it slide because the adaptation still rang true. Nicely done, good story, and great intrigue!

Dogs of War (Julius Caesar)
This was another one that felt more about getting all the lines and the original plot in order and stuck in their places rather than developing an actual story to clarify events. This was a play I studied in college so I was more familiar with the story... But unfortunately the adaptation had little to offer in the way of insights and additional details to tell a more vivid story than a Roman-era play. Which is sad because the Cook/Perkins team can be really stellar (just look at their YA urban fantasy, Foul is Fair! And their steampunk adaptation in the first volume was a masterpiece!) but this time around, trying out dieselpunk was more off-the-mark. More freedom of creativity would not have gone amiss!

Hank (Henry V)
Pretty sure Carol Gyzander wrote the adaptation that ended up being one of the best in the last volume, too. This was awesome. The establishment of the characters with pretty much their original names and occupations that corresponded with the original was spot-on even in the new context, and the narrative was fun to follow, even for a reader who might not be familiar with the story. (Let's face it, just because Kenneth Brannaugh did Henry V doesn't mean it is as popular as, say, Much Ado About Nothing) I happened to know a little about it because I studied it in college, but reading her adaptation brought back a much clearer picture of what actually happens in the play. (Except for the omission of Falstaff, but I think I can forgive that!) Fantastically done, and it made it so completely worth it to stick with the book to the end! (And also, my inner fangirl may have been working to try and figure out how "Hank" converges with "Mac"...)  

All in all, I would give this anthology a solid ****4 stars****! Definitely worth the price of admission, if not for the two or three adaptations that really worked, then at least for the cause they support! "Once More Unto The Breach" gets an Upstream-Writer Certified HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and I hope this series continues until they have managed to adapt all 37 plays!