Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
I must say from the outset that Miranda and Caliban is a story that I was very much looking forward to. I think Jacqueline Carey is a wonderful author who can weave a beautiful tale with characters that are well developed and worlds that are rich with detail and Miranda and Caliban was another fine example of her ability.
To be honest I haven’t read The Tempest, in fact I’ve read very few of Shakespeare’s works so if you’re the same, and feel a bit daunted by this book because it’s based on one of his plays then don’t be. Carey’s writing style is really beautiful and very easy to read and although this does contain the characters from the Tempest, plus being something of a retelling, its actually more a prequel in which we witness Miranda and Caliban as they develop a tentative friendship that develops into something more. It’s also told in the author’s own modern style and isn’t an attempt to micic the prose of Shakespeare.
In the original play Prospero was the Duke of Milan. He was however betrayed by his brother who took the Dukedom for himself and cast his brother and baby niece out to sea in a dilapidated boat with few provisions. Fortunately the two of them managed to cross the seas and land on a remote island that was at the time inhabited by only one other person – Caliban. This book starts a few years after Prospero and Miranda took up residence on the island when Miranda is a child of six. Her only friends are the chickens and goats and to say that she is lonely is something of an understatement. Caliban survives using his own wiles. He runs wild on the island but, like Miranda, he’s lonely and desperate for human interaction. So he watches Prospero and Miranda from afar, sometimes leaving little gifts that he finds on his travels. Prospero, is a man of magic. He spends hours in his study pouring over his books and brewing up all sorts of concoctions and one day he takes it upon himself to take Caliban under his wing, by which I mean capture and enslave him, of course with the notion of teaching and civilising him! As you may imagine Caliban doesn’t take too kindly to having his freedom removed but he is torn between wanting his liberty and wanting to befriend Miranda. And, as it turns out Prospero had other plans in mind when he took Caliban into his home and they weren’t all quite as benevolent as he tried to make out.
Now, although I haven’t read the tempest I did go and check out the plot after reading this – I just couldn’t resist – and it seems for the large part Carey has followed in Shakespeare’s story – what she brings to this story that is different is the overall feeling of the book and the nature of the characters that is focused on quite strongly here – well, unsurprising really as Carey excels in characterisation.
In terms of the characters. I enjoyed Miranda’s chapters – they were informative in terms of getting a feel for the place and the daily routines and also when read against Caliban’s sections helped to portray how the two of them frequently misunderstood each other’s motivations – particularly as they both started to reach a certain age and lets just say chemistry worked its magic! Miranda is a little bit of a conundrum – I wanted her to stand up to her father but then I also understood why she didn’t. Caliban, you couldn’t help feeling a little bit sorry for – I mean, he was doing perfectly well, if a bit lonely, by himself and to strip him of his freedom and treat him as little more than a slave certainly seems cruel – particularly when we learn that Prospero had a method in the madness. Caliban is torn – he desperately wants to run away but he also has formed such a strong attachment to Miranda that he can’t bear to do so – and equally, as with Miranda there are deterrents that prevent him from leaving. Then we have Prospero. He’s quite the villain of the piece really not to mention something of an abusive tyrant! Given the treachery that he suffered at the hands of his brother it would have been easy to think he would have something in him to like or to sympathise with but instead he becomes a cruel parody of a man, consumed with revenge and with very little left over in his emotional repertoire for anything else. Prospero uses his magic to control both Miranda and Caliban and keep them in line – basically, he could kill them at a whim and the threat is very real. On top of that he similarly controls a spirit called Aries who is tied to Prospero until his dreams of revenge come to fruition. Aries is a wicked little character – he plays Caliban and Miranda off against each other and frequently puts Caliban into Prospero’s bad books.
This is a book that really lives up to it’s original name of The Tempest. The Island itself lends itself perfectly. Remote, isolated, sometimes violently stormy, you can practically feel the wind whipping and the sea lashing! Then the characters, brooding and dark, tempestuous and sometimes just plain ill tempered (in Prospero’s case) and finally the overall feel of the book which starts almost as a simple tale and works itself up into a story with a sinister note of foreboding. Even if you know the story you can’t help but be totally fascinated by the inner machinations of Prospero – just exactly what is he up to! Do we even want to know. You feel scared for Miranda and Caliban – you simply can’t help it.
And, underneath it all lies the bitter sweet love of these two young characters. Thrown together as they have been it seems inevitable – but oh what an ending. I could weep! Ah, therein lies the beauty of Ms Carey’s work – to make you feel so emotional. She worked her magic again.
If you like a stormy tale of love and dreams this could be the one for you. Excellent writing and a compelling tale indeed.