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The Ghost Theatre, by Mat Osman

TRIGGER WARNING: historical animal abuse, sexual exploitation of children and violence
London, 1601. Shay is swept up in the world of the Elizabethan theatre when she befriends Nonesuch, a teenaged actor. Soon Shay finds herself performing and capturing the attention of the queen herself…
The Ghost Theatre is an historical novel with supernatural and fantasy elements, set in the 1600s.
Shay makes a new friend in Nonesuch and becomes immersed in the life of the theatre. But her own skills in a religious sect make her a target and put her in danger. There is a true grittiness and realism to the descriptions of the risks of being unconventional during this era.
I have very mixed feelings about the historical aspects to the plot being combined with fiction. Queen Elizabeth I appears as a diminished old woman, thoroughly unimpressive which is probably quite realistic. I found the addition of the Aviscultans interesting but it was completely made up so had no historical accuracy or basis. Shay makes prophecies but has no memory of them so a gap was created that frustrated me.
The writing style is rich and descriptive so I found myself engaged with the characters and plot. There is a darkness to the tone which creates a tense atmosphere of fear. However, I really wanted to love this book but overall it fell short of my expectations. The ending was sparse on detail and left me disappointed.
The Ghost Theatre is a vividly imagined historical book.
The Ghost Theatre book cover
Book blurb:
A wild and hallucinatory reimagining of Elizabethan London, with its bird worshippers, famed child actors, and the Queen herself; a dazzling historical novel about theatre, magic, and the dangers of all-consuming love
London, 1601—a golden city soon to erupt in flames. Shay is a messenger-girl, falconer, and fortune teller who sees the future in the patterns of birds. Nonesuch is the dark star of the city’s fabled Blackfriars Theatre, where a cast of press-ganged boys perform for London’s gentry. When the pair meet, Shay falls in love with the performances—and with Nonesuch himself. As their bond deepens, they create the Ghost Theatre, an underground troupe that performs fantastical plays in the city’s hidden corners. As their fame grows the troupe fans the flames of rebellion among the city’s outcasts, and the lovers are drawn into the dark web of the Elizabethan court. Embattled, with the plague on the rise throughout the country, the Queen seeks a reading from Shay, a moment which unleashes chaos not only in Shay’s life, but across the whole of England too.
A fever-dream full of prophecy and anarchy, gutter rats and bird gods, Mat Osman’s The Ghost Theatre is a wild ride from the rooftops of Elizabethan London to its dark underbelly, and a luminous meditation on double lives and fluid identities and the bewitching, transformative nature of art and power, with a bittersweet love affair at its heart. Set amid the vividly rendered England of Osman’s imagination and written in rich, seductive prose, The Ghost Theatre will have readers under its spell from the very first page.

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