The Duke's Return

Her Norman Conqueror

Much Ado About Love
by Malia Martin
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-81517-6
What if William Shakespeare's works had actually been the combined efforts of a married couple rather than a solitary man? Malia Martin's latest book explores this theme, crediting the plays Shakespeare wrote to a woman named Olivia and the sonnets to Olivia's husband Ian. Much Ado About Love tells us the story of how the couple met and fell in love.

Olivia has been running for her life since the moment she was born. At the age of ten, a man was sent to kill her, but unable to see the grueling task done by his own hands, he spared her, then ordered Olivia and her guardian to flee England and never come back. When her guardian dies, Olivia finds herself in dire need of funds, so she returns to England to write plays, living secretly as the man known as William Shakespeare.

There are names used in one of Shakespeare's plays that worry Queen Elizabeth as nothing else could ever hope to. Determined to find out if the names are mere coincidence or if they were purposely included into the play because the 27-year-old Shakespeare knows more than "he" should, the queen sends out her man Sir Ian Terrance to do a little detective work.

Sir Ian realizes that there is something odd about young Shakespeare from the beginning, but can't quite place it. Ian isn't altogether certain who he has in his custody until Shakespeare's rather uncommon sneeze gives "him" away. Ian remembers that sneeze all too well. It's been seventeen years since he heard it, but he knew it belonged to the same child named Olivia whose life he had once spared.

Unfortunately, no more of the plot can be revealed without giving away too much. Needless to say from the four heart rating, however, the romance is solid and unfolds at a believable pace. Olivia and Ian both have issues from their pasts that they must resolve before they are able to find happily ever after, so their relationship progresses in stages. They start out getting on each other's nerves (trading quite a few humorous quips in the process), move on to begrudging acceptance of their mutual lust, and then eventually realize that they love one another. The culmination of the protagonists' romantic love makes for a very well done ending.

Another enjoyable aspect of the novel stems from the way that Martin uses incidents in Olivia's life to explain how certain lines from Shakespeare's plays came into existence. The author obviously did her research because the story line flows effortlessly and gives Shakespeare's work an interesting twist.

There are is only one gripe I have with this book and it revolves around the initial stage of the protagonists' relationship when they are still at odds with one another. To put it plainly, the bickering back and forth went on too long. Even when arguments are presented in a humorous light, they begin to stretch a bit thin after a while. This was the case in the first third of the book. Nevertheless, I would not let that deter you from buying Much Ado About Love. The arguing does relent and most of the novel consists of good exchanges between the couple.

Overall, Martin's third novel is a strong one. I've been watching this author since she debuted with Her Norman Conquerer and have not been disappointed in her efforts. Whether or not you're a fan of Shakespeare, Much Ado About Love is an entertaining read. And better yet, under Martin's pen, it actually makes sense.

--Tina Engler

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