King of Shadows

Style: Good

Attitude: Unobjectionable

This review was contributed by Ben G

In Brief: Well-written; gives good understanding of Shakespeare's world and plays; Nat's father's suicide; Arby & Julia live together

Cover of King of Shadows

Author: Susan Cooper

Publisher: Puffin

Published in: 1999

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: Various

Setting: Modern London, Elizabethan London.

Genres:  FriendshipTime-Travel


  • Nat Field: Slightly shy, 11 year old actor who is part of the Company of boys.
  • Arby: The domineering and authoritarian director of the Company.
  • Gil: Close friend to Nat in the present day.
  • Harry: Elizabethan boy actor who is good friends with Nat.
  • Roper: Another Elizabethan boy actor who is enemies with Nat from the outset.
  • William Shakespeare: As well as being the writer of the plays he is also a very fatherly figure towards Nat in the book. He plays the part of Oberon lord of the fairies in his own play.


Nat Field is a member of the Company of boys, an acting group for 11-18 year old boys who perform Shakespeare's plays traditionally. This means that there are no girls in the group because any female roles were played by boys whose voices had not yet broken. The acting troupe departs for England to act in Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream in which Nat is going to play Puck.

Nat suffers from an illness and wakes up to find himself as a boy about to play the part of Puck in 1599. He makes new Elizabethan friends and enemies and brushes shoulders with the likes of William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth herself. Meanwhile the reader discovers that Nat in the present day is suffering from the dreaded bubonic plague.


The book is very well laid out with just the right amount of setting the scene and a little character exploration before it gets into the heart of the story that revolves around Nat's experiences in 1599. The story is not only well told but also gives an insight into Shakespearean plays and general life at the time of Shakespeare. For those who read Shakespeare's plays at school this will be particularly interesting. It shows the reader what it truly is and how it really feels to act in Shakespeare, the reader is really able to delve into the depths of Nat's mind and comprehend the feelings he has when he acts.

The only objectionable aspects of the book are that: Nat's father committed suicide and the description of his death is rather unsettling; Arby the director lives with his partner Julia; and there is a particularly violent bear-baiting sequence.

Master Burbage had taken over a whole room at the tavern, with a big long table and we boys were at one end, together. We were only apprentices, after all, to be tolerated but not necessarily heard. It was a musty room, full of good and bad smells. The rushes which were spread everywhere on indoor floors were perhaps changed more often in a tavern than in an ordinary house, because more bits of food and muck fell on them than in an ordinary day. Quite often you'd find a mouse or a rat scavenging through them.

Tuesday 1st January 2002