The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare's The Tempest
by Kathryn Johnson

Avon/Harper Collins, 2010. ISBN 978-0-061-96531-9.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 09/20/2010

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mystery

The Gentleman Poet is author Kathryn Johnson's homage to Shakespeare and The Tempest, and is a delightful read. Since The Tempest is my favorite Shakespeare play, I was drawn into the story right away.

The time: 1609. The place: The Bermudas. The protagonist of this clever novel is Elizabeth Persons, a down-on-her-luck young woman who is forced to take a position as a serving girl to a cantankerous, bitter old woman. They are on their way to the New World, intending to check on Mistress Horton's investments with the Virginia Company. As the story unfolds, we learn much about Elizabeth's past, and her uncanny (and painful) way of telling when a storm is at hand.

As the ship, the Sea Venture, plows through the Atlantic, we learn of its purpose as well—to be the Third Supply to the Jamestown Colony. A total of seven ships and two pinnaces sailed with supplies, settlers and soldiers to lend support and aid to the fledgling American enterprise.

Storm tossed, the ship is forced on the rocks in the oft-feared Bermudas; a place ships avoid, since their reputation as the Devil's Isles has been long known. But with no mast, no rudder and no choice, the tired, wet band of travelers is washed ashore, led by Governor Gates and Captain Newport, with a handful of soldiers and sailors and a few assorted passengers, which is apparently all that is left of the Third Supply force.

The story becomes more intimate, more detailed and more mysterious as the newcomers try to create a community on the cluster of islands. Third Supply historian William Strachey and the young Elizabeth form an unlikely friendship—and as the tasks of creating a safe haven and an escape to the mainland become focal to the survivors, this friendship takes the reader on an adventure of what might have been.

Each step of the way author Johnson holds all the strands in her very capable hands, and weaves together a tale of history, romance, adventure, and human struggle to give us a true page-turner. I really enjoy a book that has been well researched, especially when it takes a novelized form, and this book shows the twists and turns in "once upon a time," and gives us an alternate history that is intriguing. I was also vastly amused to find one of my own disreputable ancestors in the tale, Stephen Hopkins, later to be found in the passenger lists of the brave Mayflower in 1620.

This novel should appeal to many, as it has many fascinating elements, as in real life. Watching the young Elizabeth mature and fall in love, growing in slow awareness of the true identity of the historian-poet, is delightful. Seeing the all-too-realistic struggles of the Captain and Governor to control unruly, recalcitrant sailors, and soldiers without a leader, brings the full story to fruition, and by the end of the book, you have chosen your favorites, and are rooting for the success of this doughty group of strangers.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Kathryn Johnson lives in Maryland with her husband. She has published more than 40 novels for both young and adult readers, under several pen names, with major U.S. and international publishers. Her popular course, The Extreme Novelist, is offered at The Writers' Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She has taught creative writing at Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, the Long Ridge Writers Group, and is an inspirational speaker at major writing conferences and for other organizations across the country. Ms. Johnson is a member of the Authors' Guild, American Independent Writers, Historical Novel Society, Novelists Inc., and Romance Writers of America, and is currently serving on the board of the Mystery Writers of America/Mid-Atlantic Region. More information about the book and author can be found on her website.

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