Review: O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell

When Juliet Capelletti meets Romeo Monticecco at a masked ball, they instantly fall in love. There’s only one problem: the Capelletti and the Monticecco are families at war. Oh, and Juliet’s father is already planning to marry her to another man. Does this sound familiar? It should, because it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – the most famous love story of all time.

The storyline is basically the same as Shakespeare’s but Robin Maxwell has made the story her own by adding some interesting twists and variations; for example she uses 15th century Florence as the setting rather than Verona and has her Romeo and Juliet mixing with real historical figures such as Lucrezia Tornabuoni and Cosimo de’ Medici. Also, while the events of Shakespeare’s play take place in less than a week, Maxwell’s story covers a longer period, making the pace feel more realistic and allowing her to spend more time fleshing out the early stages of Romeo and Juliet’s romance and Romeo’s attempts to reconcile their feuding families.

Although Jacopo Strozzi, the man Juliet is promised to, is a stereotypical villain (cruel and spiteful with yellow teeth and stinking breath), most of the other characters are well drawn. Maxwell’s Juliet is the daughter of a wealthy silk merchant and is portrayed as a strong, intelligent woman who enjoys writing her own poetry in the style of her beloved Dante Alighieri. The charming, romantic Romeo, son of an olive grower, is another Dante fan and it’s their mutual love of the poet that helps to bring them together. Throughout the book Romeo and Juliet frequently quote from Dante, as well as sharing their own poetic efforts with each other. I thought this was a nice touch and the fact that they had a common interest made their relationship more believable, rather than it just being love at first sight.

I wish I could say that I loved this book, but I didn’t – I thought it was good, without being exceptionally good. As the story started building towards its tragic climax I just didn’t feel as emotionally affected by it as I expected to. However, there were plenty of things I did like about the book, for example the way it was structured, with most of the story being told from Juliet’s viewpoint interspersed with the occasional chapter from Romeo’s point of view. The fact that the plot unfolds within a real historical setting makes the story feel convincing. I haven’t read many books set in Renaissance Italy, so this was another aspect of the book that I enjoyed – the descriptions of Florence are full of detail and imagery. Finally – and I don’t normally mention this in my reviews – the front cover is gorgeous! I would recommend O, Juliet to lovers of historical romance or to anyone who is intrigued by the thought of reading a new take on a classic tale.

Genre: Historical Fiction/Pages: 338/Publisher: New American Library/Year: 2010/Source: Won in giveaway

4 thoughts on “Review: O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell

  1. Aarti says:

    It isn’t fair of me to focus really on only one sentence of your review, but I just hate when the villian/fiancee/antagonist in books is made to be SO stereotypically vile. Like everyone has to hate that person, or that the protagonist must have someone so completely disturbed as a foil to look good against. It always, to me, seems lazy on the author’s part. It happens a LOT, too.

  2. Helen says:

    I hate that too, Aarti. I prefer villains to be more complex – it makes them so much more interesting and believable.

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