I recently finished Philippa Ballantine’s Chasing the Bard. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this book since I had picked it up primarily as a place holder while I looked for a copy of Geist.
The book follows Shakespeare from his birth to his death but in terms of character, I stayed through the beginning of the book for Puck and Brigit. The interplay of the impulsive trickster and the cranky grandmother is quite amusing even as the main plot progresses.
Puck’s relationship with Sive, the female lead, is something I deeply want more of, his feelings towards her are complex and interesting. This particular thread gets sidelined in the chaos of the second half of the book since there are so many complicated relationships for both characters but it’s something I’m left curious about.
Early in the book, he clearly has a strong affection for her and this remains for the entire book and his decisions that ultimately place him more in the company of the human playwright than the fey princess are fascinating. However, Puck is not the star of the novel nor are his major life decisions the main point.
The novel primarily covers the relationship between Sive and Shakespeare- how their needs and beliefs impact the continuing health of the fey realm. Their mutual selfishness and the pressure exerted on them by those around them lead them to make powerfully destructive choices for very understandable reasons.
Most of the tragedy in the book arises from Sive or Will (or both) letting their pride or their ego or their stubbornness overcome their understanding in situations. Interestingly, this lack of understanding directly leads to Shakespeare developing the power and sensitivity of one of the greatest playwrights of all time.
The book is at its strongest when it highlights the human failings and the torn natures of its characters- be they fey princes like Auberon or selfish mortals. All of the “great” things they do are also selfish things. This almost seems to be one of the hearts of the novel’s message:
That what makes us wrong, mortal, human, mistaken, stubborn, selfish, etc is also what makes us heroic, grand, loving, and worth remembering.
Auberon’s egoism and selfishness is also his power to help in the fiale.
Puck’s foolishness and impulsiveness is why he has the ability to help Brigit in the finale.
Brigit’s stubborn refusal to change with the times is her ability to resist the foul schemes of the Unmaker.
Sive’s pride as a princess of the fey is also her ability to understand when she was wrong, to take over the reigns of leadership, to become the leader she was born to be.
William’s selfishness, his mortality and emotionally driven nature that leads him to impulsive decisions that could lead him to hurt people he loves- these traits are also what gives him the ability to commune with the hearts of everyone who lives and ultimately give him the ability, the art to confront the Unmaker and to create his stories.
What surprised me the most: How awesome Auberon turns out to be. Brilliant explanations as to how Shakespeare knows enough to write his plays.
What touched me the most: Puck’s relationship with Brigit
What I want to know more about: Puck’s relationship with Sive. There wasn’t really space in the novel for this thread to be developed but I still want to see more scenes between the cousins where they truly come to understand each other and what happens because of it. Maybe it’s fan fiction time.
Recommendation: Read the book. It’s great. I loved the podiobook version Philippa read’s herself. She has an excellent voice and the rest of the cast is enjoyable.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars