Summary (taken from the inside flap): "Madeline and Rogan are first cousins, best friends, twinned souls, each other's first love. Even within their large, disorderly family -- all descendants of a famous actress - their intensity and passion for theater set them apart. And make them a little dangerous. When they are cast in their school's production of Twelfth Night, they are forced to face their separate talents and futures, and their future together."
And here's what I thought: I'm familiar with some of this author's other books, most notably a book of short stories, Saffron and Brimstone. Actually, the full title is: Saffron and Brimstone: strange stories. And while I love a few of the stories in that book, strange is a very good word to describe the book. This story, written for a young adult audience, is no exception. Madeline and Rogan are not your usual teens. The family overall is somewhat odd, living in a cluster of houses in the same area, so they are all together. Aunt Kate is the only family member who seems different from the rest, and she's a strong influence on Madeline and Rogan, encouraging them to indulge their love of the theater (even though no one else in the family agrees). Aunt Kate is beautiful and mysterious, making one wonder if she's some sort of good witch or fairy setting off a chain of events for the two young cousins. There are other mysterious elements in this story, as well, such as the miniature theatre that Rogan and Madeline discover behind a wall in an attic. The tiny theatre is both compelling and disturbing, like many elements in this story.
The relationship between Madeline and Rogan is also a little strange. They are "kissing cousins," the youngest children of identical twin brothers. Growing up together, they are close friends, but now, at fifteen, their relationship has deepened into love (and some intimacy). Both Madeline and Rogan seem pretty mature for their age, and the relationship starts getting a little intense, which triggers concern on the part of some other family members. Please note: Rogan and Madeline's relationship is a sensual one -- they are pretty intimate. Personally, I was a bit put off by this, as I don't consider cousins as being date material. However, I didn't find it to be a deterrent to reading this book (just something I kept in the back of my head).
This book kept me reading, but I was constantly questioning what was going on. Hand seems to imply that Rogan has a bit of magic about himself; he has a mesmerizing singing voice, and he is charismatic, and seems to have an air of mystery about him, as well. When both he and Madeline become involved in the production of the Shakespeare play, their own intensity seems to rub off on other players. Elizabeth Hand has a beautiful writing style, and uses language in a way that weaves the story together, even if the reader is wondering where things are going. She keeps the reader guessing as to the true nature of the characters, and what might happen in the story. She certainly doesn't shy away from a bit of discomfort on the part of the reader (something which I don't mind at all). I believe the best description of Hand's writing is to say that it feels like she crafts her stories, layering beautiful language with creative description, into a work, rather than just a story. I found this to be a completely unusual story, although it reminded me of what I liked best about some of the stories in Saffron and Brimstone. Although it's written for a YA audience, I believe older teens will warm to this story a little more (and I know some adults who will love this book). For those of you who want a warning --- there is some mature language in this book. However, as I said, this is a beautifully written book --- a hint of mature language shouldn't deter you from reading this story. :)
If you are interested in reading Saffron and Brimstone, please note that this is not a book of stories for a YA audience, and some of the material is a little mature. I found some of the stories completely resonated with me, while others, well, not so much. I did have an "Aha!" moment in Illyria -- Madeline mentions later in the story a series of audiobooks about a brave ant -- I believe this refers back to a story in Saffron and Brimstone.
In accordance with FTC guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials for bloggers, I would like to state that most of the books I review on my site are obtained from my library or are my personal copies. In addition, I review books which are provided to me for free by the publisher or author of the book in exchange for an honest review. I am in no way compensated for any reviews on my site.