A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST by Poul Anderson (cover by Darrel Sweet, all rights to current holder) works much better for me than when I read it as a teen. It’s set in a world where Shakespeare’s plays are records of history, and I know way more Shakespeare (and about Shakespeare) than I did 40 years ago.
The story is set during the English Civil War. The protagonist, Rupert, is a relative of King Charles, fighting for the throne, but the war, as in our history, is going against the Royalists. Then Rupert gets captured by the Roundheads. He escapes with the help of his servant, Will and the lovesmitten Jennifer.Will then puts Rupert in touch with Oberon and Titania, who see Puritanism and industrialization as twin dooms for Faerie With their help, Rupert sets out to find Prospero’s magic book, with which he can rouse forces to turn the tide.
Since this book came out in 1974, others have used that concept (Marvin Kaye’s Incredible Umbrella and the Kill Shakespeare graphic novels. Unlike these stories, though, Anderson goes way beyond just having the characters from different plays appear and interact and talk in Shakespearian style (Anderson does a good job with this, although it does get tedious eventually—not as annoying as Will’s dialect-speak though)
•Shakespeare has Elizabethan-era chiming clocks in Caesar’s Rome; therefore clocks existed in Rome; therefore technology is much advanced compared to our world. 1600s England has railways, which play a large role in the plot.
•The English are everywhere. One character argues the English must be God’s chosen people (probably one of the lost tribes of Israel) because they’ve been in every place and time of import: Pericles’ Athens, the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, the assassination of Julius Caesar, the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta …
And that’s what made this book stand out for me—the logical way in which Anderson builds on his premise. It’s not essential but those details give it something extra.
As someone who’s read Anderson’s other fantasies, an added bonus is that this ties several of them together into a common multiverse. Holger Dansk of Three Hearts and Three Lions runs into Richard and Will at an interdimensional tavern, still hunting for a way back to Alianora’s world after a decade of questing. Another character at the inn is the daughter of the protagonists of Anderson’s Operation Chaos (which I’ll probably get to read later this year). It’s a shame we didn’t get more from Anderson in this vein, at least to bring Holger back to his true love. Then again, if I hadn’t read the earlier books would I have found Holger an irritating (though brief) intrusion into Rupert’s story? For whatever reason Anderson didn’t go that road—the closest we got was Operation Luna, a 1999 much-inferior sequel to Chaos.
In any case, I think Midsummer Tempest is a great example of taking a premise and stretching into aspects most people wouldn’t think of.