Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub is the story of what happened after Romeo & Juliet. Sure, Shakespeare’s ending suggests the warring Capulets and Montagues learned their lesson with the death of their wedded heirs, but isn’t it more likely they dug their heels in & hated each other all the more for those deaths? Likely or not, Still Star-Crossed proves it does make for a more interesting story.
I originally added this novel to my want-to-read list after the television series based on it premiered on ABC last summer. I enjoyed seeing a costume drama on network television, even if it was a little on the soapy side, and I loved catching the nods to Shakespeare sprinkled throughout (and not just Romeo & Juliet), so I thought the book might be worth a try too.
Imagine my delight to find I liked the book even more than the show (Though I don’t know why I was surprised; books are better than their movies 99% of the time. I even have a shirt that says so, that’s how true it is). Where the show tried to layer in more intrigue with various financial, political, and supernatural subplots in an effort to provide a basis for future seasons, the book stays focused on Rosaline and Benvolio’s quest to uncover who is trying to reignite the feud between their houses even as Prince Escalus tries to use them to diffuse it once and for all.
If you remember your high school literature (or drama) classes, Rosaline is Juliet’s cousin, whom Romeo is pining for at the beginning of the play, and Benvolio is a Montague youth and friend of Romeo. In Still Star-Crossed, the two find themselves betrothed by their respective uncles, Lord Capulet and Lord Montague, as part of a deal with Prince Escalus to bring their houses together and cement the fragile peace in Verona. Neither is thrilled by the match; Benvolio blames Rosaline’s rejection of Romeo for pushing him into the even more foolhardy relationship with Juliet, and Rosaline wants only to flee Verona and join a convent, where she need never see any more death or hear the names Capulet or Montague again. No one else is exactly happy about it either; their engagement ceremony literally goes off with a bang, vandals deface Juliet’s grave, and a mystery swordsman in black is attacking members of both houses in the night. Not to mention Prince Escalus and Rosaline, close as children, still have feelings for one another, though neither can easily admit it given the current situation and the gap between their stations.
Rosaline and Benvolio are likable and believable characters. They’re both intelligent and capable, and while more clear-headed than the other members of their families, still have to work to rise above the grudges so deeply ingrained in them. Their relationship reminded me not of Romeo and Juliet, but of Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, a very different (and more entertaining, in my opinion) Shakespearean relationship. As for Escalus, he is a conflicted and complex character, but you only know this because Taub includes some sections from his POV. A smart move, because otherwise he would not come off well at all.
Taub utilizes some of Shakespeare’s language style (a lot of “thous” and “thees”) to further root her story in his world, which I was afraid might get old or distracting at first, but fortunately it didn’t. She manages to incorporate the older English just enough to maintain the setting and tone, but not so much that it interferes with accessibility or seems to slow down the plot (which is pretty fast-paced).
I must say, my favorite part of the book was catching all the Shakespeare references. Obviously, most call back to moments in Romeo & Juliet, but there are several nods to Much Ado About Nothing, and one excellent Hamlet reference. I wish there could have been more of them!
All in all, I give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars for a fun execution of a clever premise.