With Miranda in Milan, debut author Katharine Duckett reimagines the consequences of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, casting Miranda into a Milanese pit of vipers and building a queer love story that lifts off the page in whirlwinds of feeling.
After the tempest, after the reunion, after her father drowned his books, Miranda was meant to enter a brave new world. Naples awaited her, and Ferdinand, and a throne. Instead she finds herself in Milan, in her father’s castle, surrounded by hostile servants who treat her like a ghost. Whispers cling to her like spiderwebs, whispers that carry her dead mother’s name. And though he promised to give away his power, Milan is once again contorting around Prospero’s dark arts.
With only Dorothea, her sole companion and confidant to aid her, Miranda must cut through the mystery and find the truth about her father, her mother, and herself.
I don’t remember much about “The Tempest” from my high school English class beyond the vague idea that the quote about “All the world’s a stage” is from it (Spoilers, this memory is wrong! That quote is from “As You Like It.”) With so little knowledge about the original, I was worried that the sequel wouldn’t make sense to me. But it appeared on some list recommending books about ladies loving ladies, and I decided to give it a try!
I’m so glad I did. For starters, it’s a short little book at only 204 pages. By the end I wanted more because I enjoyed the characters so much, but I admire Duckett for keeping the book to exactly the length the story needed and no more.
If you, like me, fear your meager Shakespeare knowledge will mean this book is not for you, do not worry for even a second. Duckett explains enough of the plot of “The Tempest” to catch you up to speed, but it’s enough to know that a young woman is returning to normalcy after having been raised on a fantastical island by a powerful (and power mad) father.
Miranda is an excellent protagonist who straddles the line between wanting to engage in this new world that intrigues and confounds her while also being realistically overwhelmed and scared. It doesn’t help that, in addition to preferring wild hair and comfortable clothing to the restrictions of a proper Italian gentlewoman, she gets weird looks and whispers anytime she shows her face.
It’s a mystery tied to her dear departed mother, and guys, this mystery is so great! The whole book plays with the theme of women as monsters in really interesting ways, from sexuality to aging to cultural misconduct. I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that I love a book where women are redeemed not by shucking the label of “monster” but by embracing it.
As for the gay stuff, wow it’s so much fun! The only woman who will treat Miranda as a human is Dorothea, a servant who has secrets of her own. Their relationship development is quick but realistic and so sweet. I also really liked how they handled the power imbalance of a noblewoman and a servant hooking up; it isn’t ignored, but it’s also not insurmountable.
If you like historical fantasy or seeing patriarchal classics given a feminist twist, you owe it to yourself to read Miranda in Milan!