4 out of 4 stars
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“… There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” (William Shakespeare Hamlet V, ii 220-221).
The Fall of a Sparrow by Dan Scannell is a historical fiction novel centered on the life of Henry Howard, the second son of the Earl of Surrey (one of the founders of English Renaissance poetry). The story occurs on two timelines—the mid-sixteenth century and present day—and is narrated in first-person, in both timelines, by Henry Howard and Michael Devon respectively.
Michael Devon is researching into the authentic identity of William Shakespeare. Contrary to prevailing belief, the “Oxford” school believes that Edward de Verre, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the author of the plays and poems of Shakespeare. Michael, however, proposes that Henry Howard—who was first cousins with Edward de Verre—is indeed Shakespeare. He contacts his old friend, Henrietta Claudia Wells (aka Hank), to discuss his queer theory. Hank later reveals she discovered a journal, ostensibly written by Henry Howard, titled The Beginning of the Story of My Life and dated 1557. The story then shifts to the mid-sixteenth century. The reader is taken on a captivating journey revolving around Henry Howard’s life: how he arrived in Paris; his adventures with his three friends (Claude Dormoy, Gaston Gaudin, and Bernardo Giambelli); and his encounters with Doctor Michel de Nostra Dame (usually Latinised as Nostradamus) and a certain young woman named Caterina.
It is important to note this book is not intended to contribute to the academic discussion on the Shakespeare authorship question. It is simply a creative reimagination of the life of an actual historical personage (Henry Howard). Most of the other personages and events represented in the book are completely fictional. (The book is relatively similar to Shakespearean plays.) Having said that, I applaud the manner in which Dan Scannell excels in his writing—the diction and syntax in many of the journal entries portray the mid-sixteenth century–era writing in Renaissance Europe. The introduction and development of each character are first-rate. The camaraderie among the four friends is relatable and captivating. And the conclusion of the journal entries is rewarding, if you like happy endings.
Nevertheless, the conclusion of the story (as a whole) is a bit disappointing: The fate of some of the characters was left open-ended, and while Hank and Michael discover many answers, they are left with more questions. Furthermore, there are few instances of adult language and suggestive references; hence, the book might be inappropriate for children. In addition, there are several grammatical and typographical errors in the work: name inconsistencies, such as “Edward de Verre” also written as “Edward de Vere”; incorrect use of some punctuation marks, especially quotation marks; and writing “fesses” instead of “feces.”
I assign The Fall of a Sparrow a rating 4 out of 4 stars. It is an engrossing novel, and Dan Scannell deserves some public recognition for his writing style. I will recommend this book to adult readers of historical fiction books that include extensive creative liberties.
The Fall of a Sparrow
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