Cordelia Lionheart
by Ron Fritsch
Asymmetric Worlds

"'Father,' Cordelia said, 'I fear you'll soon regret being so stubborn, so unwilling to admit your kingdom isn't the peaceful, orderly realm you dream it to be.'"

Cordelia, the youngest daughter of King Lear, is beginning to lose faith in her father’s ability to rule as a fair and just king. Between rumors of unrest, distrust among the soldiers, her sisters’ and their husbands conspiring for the throne, and the occasional assassination attempt, it seems that King Lear’s peaceful reign is coming to an end. Cordelia soon finds herself in the midst of an oncoming war as Lear declares her his heir. With her life on the line and the future of the kingdom at stake, will Cordelia be able to fight back and keep the kingdom at peace?

A self-proclaimed “medieval history fanfiction,” this novel is a clever coming-of-age princess story that balances politics, drama, and the experiences of growing up. Murder, treason, and political scheming abound in Shakespeare’s original, The Tragedy of King Lear, and those same elements have been brought over to this short novel. While a few liberties have been taken—the renaming of some characters, the kingdom of France’s involvement in the war for Lear’s throne, etc.—the plot remains generally the same, and the themes of family bonds and justice are pushed front and center. By centering the novel around Cordelia, it explores the behind-the-scenes life of a royal family falling apart as well as the princess’s efforts in trying to create a new kingdom.

Just like Cordelia takes up less time in the stage version, so does Lear in this novel as it focuses on the princess’s reluctant heroism and actions as she becomes the voice of reason for Britain. The beauty of Shakespeare’s works is that they can be interpreted and re-interpreted in a myriad of ways. Fritsch is not the first author to re-center a Shakespearean play around one of the lesser featured women; young adult novels such as Ophelia and Romeo’s Ex: Rosaline’s Story come to mind. However, the author does an equally great job at bringing the character to life with a vibrant personality and a strong moral sense. In the original, Cordelia is known for her honesty and her virtue, which is highly spoken of when she’s off-stage, and she acts as a foil to her two sisters. In this novel, readers witness these traits firsthand, and Lear’s sympathetic daughter becomes less of a tragic figure and more of a heroic one.

Fritsch succeeds in making his take on Shakespeare accessible. A reader does not need prior knowledge of the story of King Lear to enjoy the author’s spin, although having that knowledge would only enhance the enjoyment of this novel. The author acknowledges that Shakespearean plays can feature many actors and helpfully provides a handy list of characters at the beginning. The writing is clear, and the dialogue is witty and believable. The author does not shy away from violence and sexual innuendo that would be present in any Shakespeare play, but he does not make his story overly graphic either.

Fritsch’s characterization stays true to the original while also emphasizing certain qualities of each character. For example, King Lear is a man used to absolute power, flattery, and love, but as he loses power and respect, he is displayed more as pathetic than mad. Cordelia is intelligent, brave, and innocent of evil aspirations to the throne, unlike her sisters Goneril and Regan, who are portrayed as crude, both in their chase for power and for sexual dominance. More importantly, the author presents an enjoyable, alternative perspective to Shakespeare’s original with this novel. It’s a delightful, easy read with a relatively happy ending, led by an endearing protagonist who focuses on human kindness over human cruelty.

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