Poul Anderson, A Midsummer Tempest
Set during an alternate version of the English Civil War, this novel follows Prince Rupert of Bohemia, one of King Charles’ most valiant allies. Unfortunately, Charles is losing his war against the Puritans, and after a particularly brutal battle, Rupert is captured by a Puritan nobleman and placed under house arrest. He immediately begins plotting his escape, but fate steps in when he meets his captor’s beautiful niece, Jennifer. The two of them end up fleeing the Puritan’s house together and receiving help from an unlikely source: Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of Faerie. They encourage Rupert to find the lost treasure of Prospero, whose magical artifacts will help the king’s cause; but Rupert must brave many dangers before he can fulfill his quest.
There are so many clever, ingenious concepts at work in this book that it’s almost too hard to list them all. First there is the obvious debt to Shakespeare: in this world, he is not merely a playwright but also the Great Historian, so everything he wrote is factually true. (Bohemia even has a sea coast!) Thus, this book is full of all the wonderful Shakespearean plot devices — faeries, star-crossed lovers, uncouth jesters, shipwrecks, and a very unusual tavern, to name a few. My favorite thing was realizing that several of the characters actually talk in iambic pentameter. Sure, it makes the style a bit choppy and stilted, but the characters talk in iambic pentameter! Add in a discussion of parallel universes, some trains, and angry Puritans getting their comeuppance, and I’m sold! I’d definitely recommend this one if you’re interested in the premise.