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    Review of RULED BRITANNIA by Harry Turtledove


    New American Library, November 2002

    The Spanish Armada, unhampered by the storm and fire ships that saved England in our history, landed and England lies conquered beneath the Spanish (and Irish) boot. Protestantism is persecuted, Elizabeth languishes in the Tower of London, and spies are everywhere, searching out any remaining supporters of the old English order. Yet London remains restive, even after ten years of Spanish rule, looking for a spark to sent it into revolt. English nobleman Lord Burghley decides that Philip's death and a new play by Shakespeare are just the sparks needed to ignite the flames of freedom. Of course, for Shakespeare, any flames might just come from the Inquisition rather than from freedom.

    Alternate History master Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) combines historical research with an abundance of Shakespearian paraphrases to deliver an entertaining and plausible tale. Certainly England's survival from the Spanish Armada was viewed as a miracle at the time, and certainly a Spanish victory would have changed the world. Setting a story in the world of Shakespeare and Marlowe gives the story instant appeal and the author a challenge to depict the Bard as a witty and human man. Turtledove lives up to the challenge. I especially enjoyed his depictions of the exploits of Spanish soldier and playwright Lupe de Vega.

    For me, at least, the magic of alternate history is seeing how the world is changed by a slightly different turn of fate (hence the success of the Spanish Armada). The point of RULED BRITANNIA, however, is the English resistance to Spanish rule. The end result, should the revolt succeed, is a return to history much as we knew it. Whether a revolutionary play could set off London is certainly debatable but at least tenable. Less so, to me, is the foolishness of Philip leaving Elizabeth in the tower rather than in the Spanish equivalent. Would Elizabeth have dared put Mary Queen of Scots in Edinburgh?

    The power of RULED BRITANNIA comes from Turtledove's obvious enjoyment of Shakespeare's words, characters such as the word-mangling Constable Strawberry, and Shakespeare's fellow dramatists Kemp and Burbage.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 3/01/03

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