Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from? The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love.
“…there are stories written in the gathering of the stars…”
Wow. I honestly don’t even know how to begin reviewing this book. Please bear with me while I try to find some way to do it justice.
I suppose I should begin at the beginning? This is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which a magus named Prospero and his infant daughter Miranda are betrayed and set adrift on a boat that is far from seaworthy. Thanks to his magic, they make it to what, at first, appears to be an abandoned island.
But there is magic on this isle, and Prospero isn’t the first of his kind to be a castaway there. Before him there was the evil witch Sycorax. Prospero follows in her footsteps by quickly enslaving the many sprites that flit over the fields and swim in the rivers. And soon, he discovers, Sycorax left a child behind after she perished.
This child is Caliban. In the original story, he is described as the son of Sycorax and a devil, subhuman, monstrous. He remains so in this retelling. And yet, he is the only friend that Miranda has ever had. And he is kind and generous where her father is cold and distant. To her, he isn’t monstrous; he’s beautiful.
The story is very much a character study. It begins just before Prospero captures and enslaves Caliban. Miranda is six years old. She is innocent, sheltered, and naive. Caliban, for his part, has been left alone on the island after his mother’s death. He has forgotten how to live indoors, he has forgotten his language, and he’s spent so much time scrabbling over the rocks of the island that he stands stooped, his knuckles dragging on the ground.
Prospero quickly becomes impatient with his lack of progress, declaring him a useless, stupid savage. Miranda takes up the task of civilizing and educating him, and slowly, he begins to grow. Both Miranda and Caliban serve as narrators, and it was incredible to see his chapters go from stunted sentences like:
“Yes. No. Food. Water. Eat food. Drink water. Please. Yes, eat food, please.”
“So I leave flowers; spring flowers, then summer flowers. I gather the red and orange and yellow trumpet flowers, for a trumpet is a thing that makes a loud noise like a shout, and I tie their vines together and leave them to shout I love you in a row from Miranda’s window ledge.”
As they age, they become more aware. Not just of themselves, but of Prospero. He is, without a doubt, one of the easiest characters to hate that I have ever read. My notes are filed with line after line lambasting him. His character is especially enraging because of the innocence of Miranda and Caliban. He is the only other human they know, the only point of authority in their lives, and so they have no gauge for his cruelty. Which he greatly abuses.
Both Miranda and Caliban suffer from Stockholm syndrome throughout this book, though, towards the end, as they mature into adults, both begin to rebel. One succeeds. The other…does not.
A thing to note here is that this is not a romance. This is very much a tragedy. My advice: save it for when you’re ready to cry. Hard. Carey spends most of this story crafting these characters and their love in such a way as to do the most damage possible to a reader’s heart. It’s as if her singular goal with this story is to break us.
With me, at least, she succeeded.
This is a staggeringly well-researched, poignant, beautiful, savage retelling. I cannot recommend it enough for fans of the Bard, or even for those wholly unfamiliar with Shakespeare, because, to me, this is a much more compelling read than the original.