Book Review: Fools and Mortals – Bernard Cornwell

Fools and Mortals – Bernard Cornwell


A dramatic new departure for international bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, FOOLS AND MORTALS takes us into the heart of the Elizabethan era, long one of his favourite periods of British history.

Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

Showcasing his renowned storyteller’s skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal: you walk the London streets, stand in the palaces and are on stage in the playhouses, as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue.


I’ve read many Bernard Cornwell novels over the years from standalones like Stonehenge and Azincourt to series books like the Warlord series, the Grail quest, and – of course – the Sharpe books. Obviously, some are better than others, but on the whole Cornwell does set a high standard and I’ve yet to come across one of his books that I couldn’t finish.

Fools and Mortals is another good book from Cornwell, the first of his – at least that I’ve read – set in Elizabethan England. As with all Cornwell books the historical research is there at the service of the story, not overwhelming with unnecessary detail or recondite facts, but enough to give a sold sense of time and place.

The Elizabethan period is fascinating in itself, being part of the transition from the late medieval towards the modern, both familiar and strange.

The protagonist of the story is William Shakespeare’s younger brother Richard and his awkward relationship with his older brother. Not only is there conflict between the Shakespeare siblings, there is also conflict between the actors in the company, other acting companies and theatre owners, the world of the actors and the puritans and so on.

It is in this world of conflict and strife that Richard Shakespeare is trying to build a place for himself, and has to battle everyone from his own brother to the puritans in order to do it.

It is a good well-paced read with plenty of action, and enough detail about the period and Shakespeare himself to keep me more than interested.

If you have any interest in the period, Shakespeare or just like a good well-paced yarn then this might be your kind of thing.

It was mine.


Rating: 4/5



Published by David Hadley

A Bloke. Occasionally points at ducks.

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