DISCLAIMER: I was sent a copy by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Spoiler free | Rating: 3 out of 5 stars | Read: 18th March – 22nd March, 2018.
To encourage more young people to read Shakespeare, Amber Elby wrote Cauldron’s Bubble which combines young adult fiction with three of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Taking inspiration from The Tempest, Macbeth and Hamlet, Elby creates a world full of ‘witches and curses, pirates and princes, and the lost worlds of Shakespeare’. The novel follows two protagonists, Alda and Dreng, as they try to navigate this new world. There are two vital questions that linger over the narrative: ‘will they escape with their lives? or will they become lost and forgotten?’
My favourite thing about Cauldron’s Bubble was Elby’s engagement with the original texts. As Macbeth, The Tempest and Hamlet are my favourite Shakespeare plays, I had a hunch that this would be the thing I liked the most. However, saying that, Macbeth and Hamlet don’t seem to play that much of a role in the novel. They are only there as narrative catalysts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but one I thought to mention. They mainly open the story, before fading out into nothing. I was a little disappointed that Macbeth didn’t have a larger role in the novel, but Elby’s engagement with the witches was really interesting. She managed to capture an authentic portrayal of the Shakespearean witches, yet make them her own creation.
The Tempest was the star of the novel. It had the biggest role, which I didn’t really mind considering it’s a wonderful play. You don’t necessarily need any prior knowledge to follow and appreciate this story, but it might help to be familiar with The Tempest, at least. Elby tries to fill in the gaps of the play, whilst also creating her own story from the original characters and plot. In particular, I liked the role Sycorax played in the novel. In Shakespeare’s play, she is only briefly mentioned and never really present. However, towards the end, Elby reversed this. She put Sycorax at the forefront of the narrative. As we know so little about her, it was nice to see her given this voice.
In general, I wasn’t too keen on the narrative voice. In this kind of story (well, in most stories, to be honest), I like the characters to be written in first person. I want to know their own personal thoughts, not have them transcribed by an omniscient narrator. This is just my personal preference. The third person narration worked well, but I felt like the characters often lacked an authentic voice. It would have been more emotionally fulfilling and thought-provoking if we going through Alda and Dreng’s experiences with them. It needed a more detail and more emotion to make it into a great read.
The only other aspect that ruined it for me was the rushed narrative. Elby sped through the story, meaning I never got the chance to connect with the characters. Although I was happily reading the story, I didn’t form any sort of bond with Alda or Dreng. New situations were constantly happening, and I never got the chance to take it all in. Additionally, the ending was a little too abrupt. It could have been fleshed out more. But it is only the first instalment of the trilogy, so I see a lot of potential. Despite this, Cauldron’s Bubble was a lovely read. I really enjoyed Elby’s engagement with Shakespeare’s plays. She had the perfect balance between keeping true to the original texts, whilst making it her own story.
I’d recommend to those interested in Shakespeare or young adult fiction – just bare in mind, these are not re-tellings of the original plays.
Thanks for reading, Lauren X
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