I received this book for free from Netgalley, Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons
Published by Sourcebooks on September 12, 2023
Genres: Fiction / Feminist, Fiction / Historical / Renaissance, Fiction / Women
Source: Netgalley, Sourcebooks
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The most exciting historical retelling of 2023: a subversive, powerful untelling of Romeo and Juliet by New York Times bestselling author Natasha Solomons
Was the greatest ever love story a lie?
The first time Romeo Montague sees young Rosaline Capulet he falls instantly in love. Rosaline, headstrong and independent, is unsure of Romeo's attentions but with her father determined that she join a convent, this handsome and charming stranger offers her the chance of a different life.
Soon though, Rosaline begins to doubt all that Romeo has told her. She breaks off the match, only for Romeo's gaze to turn towards her cousin, thirteen-year-old Juliet. Gradually Rosaline realizes that it is not only Juliet's reputation at stake, but her life .With only hours remaining before she will be banished behind the nunnery walls, will Rosaline save Juliet from her Romeo? Or can this story only ever end one way?
Shattering everything we thought we knew about Romeo and Juliet, Fair Rosaline is the spellbinding prequel to Shakespeare's best known tale, which exposes Romeo as a predator with a long history of pursuing much younger girls. Bold, lyrical, and chillingly relevant, Fair Rosaline reveals the dark subtext of the timeless story of star-crossed lovers: it's a feminist revision that will enthrall readers of bestselling literary retellings such as Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell and Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese.
"Irresistible. An excellent spin on a timeless classic." --Jennifer Saint, Sunday Times bestselling author of Ariadne
"I have not been able to stop thinking about this book . . . Fair Rosaline is a gripping, spellbinding and wonderfully immersive book - and one that truly makes you think. I would be very surprised if everyone is not talking about it.." --Elodie Harper, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Wolf Den
"A brilliant, feminist re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet, Fair Rosaline is a gorgeously written version of Verona from Juliet's cousin, Rosaline's, point of view. What does Romeo truly look like through the eyes of a woman on the periphery of the original story? Natasha Solomons skillfully shows us another version of the star-crossed lovers - and the Romeo --we all think we know. I absolutely devoured this thought-provoking, female-centric take on Shakespeare." -- Jillian Cantor, USA Today bestselling author of Beautiful Little Fools
First, I’ve never been a fan of Romeo and Juliet. Shocking, I know (not really for those who know me). It’s an overdone tragedy when there are plenty of others out there that can fit the bill as easily as Romeo and Juliet. Now, this is not a judgment on anyone if they do like Romeo and Juliet. I don’t think less of you, nor am I judging you or your tastes…okay, maybe I’m judging your tastes a teensy tiny bit.
However, one of the genres of fiction I do love reading are retellings/reimaginings of fairy tales or classic stories. Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons fits not only that genre but portrays Romeo in a way that I definitely agree with and provides a much more satisfying ending.
I love that Solomons didn’t just create her own version of Rosaline for the book but drew on inspiration from other Rosaline(d) that Shakespeare wrote, As You Like It and Love’s Labours Lost. In her author’s note at the end, she mentions that her main inspiration for her Rosaline was Love’s Labours Lost. This Rosaline and Solomons own are brilliant, powerful, and clever women. It’s a great way to introduce characters to a woman who, while she understands the world around her and her place in it, still doesn’t like it.
Juliet in the novel is an adorable, innocent, playful 13-year-old (Rosaline is 15 years old) who, of course, is going to have to marry because she is her parents’ only child who made it to “adulthood.” On the other hand, Rosaline is the second child of Masseto, plus he already has a son who is married with children. Rosaline is superfluous to their lives now. Both of these characters are refreshing as they actually do feel feminist while remaining accurate to their time period. I’m thinking of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings and how Ana is very much a modern-day woman dropped into a historical fiction novel. Her reactions to arranged marriage make absolutely no sense as this wouldn’t come as a shock to her. While upset by the nunnery, Rosaline understands that her father does not need her. She was just under the impression that she would be married off soon instead.
It was great to read a Romeo who is represented as he should be, a lecherous older man. Before anyone comments, I know I’m looking back on history with moral values and attitudes in mind. But answer me this: why is Juliet’s age brought up? I don’t recall other Shakespeare plays where the ages are mentioned, referenced, referred to, or at all important. There’s also the scene at the beginning with Papa Capulet and Paris discussing Juliet’s engagement to him, and her father remarks, “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years./Let two more summers wither in their pride/Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.” One significant event girls/women go through in their life is menstruation to prepare the body for pregnancy, which I’m positive is what Capulet is referring to by her not yet being “ripe” (let’s not analyze how gross that phrasing is). I’m not a Shakespeare or Elizabethan-era scholar, so I cannot fully say what happens in the original play. But I do like the idea that in Solomons novel Romeo is portrayed as he should be a flighty, lecherous, man who preys on young girls to get what he wants (sex, the answer is always sex).
The one, tiny aspect of the novel that kept grinding on my nerves was Rosaline’s insistence that her life would be over when she entered the convent. Yes, it’s not the life she wants, but given her options are marriage, destitution, or the convent, I’d take the convent. I was hoping when she visits the convent and speaks with the abbess, she would realize that the convent is not the death sentence she thinks it is. They practice herbology, sing and practice music, and write down their history, it’s a beautiful place of knowledge. Yes, they still devote their lives to God, but practicing music and using herbal medicine is how they use their gifts to please God.
Definitely a feminist retelling of a classic story that was definitely, definitely NOT a romance, love story, or anything remotely close to that. It’s a story of young, naive people who try to experience as much as possible in this world and, unfortunately, wind up burned. Fair Rosaline does give us a twist providing a happier ending for both Juliet and our “fair Rosaline.”