by Robin Maxwell
It is time for Juliet Capelletti to marry. At eighteen, she’s no longer a girl. Her best friend, Lucrezia, is happily preparing for her own wedding to the son of Cosimo de’ Medici, but when Juliet’s father proposes his daughter marry his business partner Jacopo Strozzi, Juliet can’t muster any excitement. Instead, her passion finds an outlet in reading Dante and writing poetry. When she meets Romeo Monticecco, Juliet falls head over heels in love. Between secret meetings, Romeo attempts to make peace between his family and the Capellettis, but old grudges die hard. Can the two young lovers overcome the obstacles preventing them from being together?
Dude, it’s Romeo and Juliet. What do you think happens? The plot of Shakespeare’s most popular play is known the world over. Robin Maxwell moved the story from Verona to Florence to take advantage of the Medici presence, and used the people and politics of the day to ground the story solidly in history. Cosimo de’ Medici is at the height of his power here, and the authority he wields in his city is like that of Prince Escalus. His future daughter-in-law, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, becomes a friend and confidante of Juliet. I really liked these changes.
Unfortunately, some of the other changes weren’t so great. In Shakespeare’s play, Paris is a handsome, somewhat arrogant man who truly loves Juliet, and his death a tragedy. Jacopo Strozzi, his Maxwellian counterpart, is pretty horrible, as we are reminded every time Juliet mentions his stinky breath and yellow teeth. It’s obvious he’s only interested in Juliet because of her family’s wealth. While vilifying Strozzi helps focus readers on the love between Romeo and Juliet, I thought it detracted from the overall tragedy, weakening the story with predictability.
Dante Aligheri is also a major presence through his poetry, which both Juliet and Romeo adore and quote frequently. While the poet’s words don’t detract from the story, they don’t add much to it, either. It’s just one more thing for Juliet and Romeo to talk about.
O, Juliet is an interesting spin on the Romeo and Juliet story. Fans of Robin Maxwell’s previous novels will enjoy her newest effort. There’s plenty of passion and romance in these pages, and even though I knew how the story would end I couldn’t help but hope that things would somehow turn out differently.