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Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Taking a departure from the epic battles and military focused historical fiction that made him famous, Bernard Cornwell dives into the thespians' world during the Elizabethan era in Fools and Mortals

Set back in A Midsummer Night's Dream, when young Richard Shakespeare has run away to London to carve himself a space in the world of theatre, Fools and Mortals plays out like a stage production. The narrator, Richard Shakespeare who had been estranged from his older brother William for a while, needs a job and becomes an actor at William's theatre company. But brotherly love does not dominate their relationship, and it is evident that the tension between the two siblings runs high. William continues to be dismissive of his brother, offers no preferential treatment, and, more often than not, chooses other actors for roles that Richard clearly covets. 

But, Richard can hold his own and is determined to find a great role (ideally playing a man) in one of London's prominent playhouses. He's been typecast in women's roles (and plays them well), but theatrical enterprises have troubles of their own. Playhouses are being targeted as corrupt, and there are those who want to see them gone. Luckily a few continue to survive with the blessing of her majesty.

What would a story in the Elizabethan era be without a dash of deceit, a splash of rivalry, and the requisite dose of drama and swordsmanship?

A unique manuscript goes missing and suspicion falls on Richard. Now Richard must play the role of his life, and attempt to clear his name and uncover the play that was due to be revealed at a grand society wedding. 

Characters full of pomp and realism, historical references that are on point, and a setting that we never tire of, Bernard Cornwell's departure from his usual subject matter is a delightful detour.