Miranda in Milan
by Katharine Duckett
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 was looking forward to the release of this debut novella, a sequel to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest that promised a queer heroine and dark magic, as soon as I heard about it. I got what I was promised and more, and I loved it.
I’m always a little wary of stories that retell Shakespeare in some way, not because I don’t think it can be done well but because I haven’t really enjoyed any that I’ve read in the past. I was even more wary of this one because I never studied The Tempest at school or at university, and even though I know the basic storyline I’ve never actually read or seen it at all, so consider me relieved when it became clear that I didn’t need an in-depth knowledge of the play to enjoy this novella.
Finally free of the island Miranda has known her whole life and betrothed to the future King of Naples, Miranda and her father, Prospero, are able to return to their Milanese home. Miranda can’t remember Milan nor the mother who died there when she was still an infant, and when she arrives she doesn’t receive the warm welcome she expects; she’s forced to cover her face with a veil as the people at court whisper ‘ghost’ behind her back, kept in her room after a lifetime of living beneath the stars and surrounded by servants who are afraid to be near her.
As her father begins his quest for power in Milan and Miranda waits to be sent to Naples, she finds companionship in the one maid who isn’t afraid to befriend her, Dorothea, a self-proclaimed witch of Moorish descent who’s lived her life moving from place to place, picking up whichever language she needs to master in order to keep her head down, make a living and escape the Inquisition. When Miranda and Dorothea begin to uncover the truth behind Prospero’s exile all those years before and what truly happened to Miranda’s mother, what unfolds is a Gothic tale of power and ghosts as Duckett puts Miranda at the centre of the story, where she always should have been.
I bloody loved this novella. The writing was simple but beautiful, and made perfect sense considering Miranda hasn’t been raised at the Milanese court amidst masked balls and courtly intrigue. She spent her childhood running barefoot and wild on an undiscovered island, and though Prospero has always dreamed of returning to Milan, Miranda barely knows it, and instead spends this novella yearning for the sea.
Now that she’s a woman she’s expected to take her place amongst the Italian nobles and become Queen of Naples, but at heart she’s still a wild girl and it’s only when she’s taken from the island and thrust into the dreary castle in Milan that she realises the island already had everything she wanted. The life she’s now living is the life her father has always longed for, and Miranda is starting to realise just how much her life is no longer her own. On the island she could run free as she pleased, but now that they’ve returned to Italy she’ll be forced to spend her life under constant scrutiny, which would be easier if the Milanese people weren’t afraid of her face.
This novella had the perfect balance of character growth and plot for me. I loved the Miranda that Duckett brought to life, a girl so often overshadowed by Prospero, and Dorothea is a charming character who, as well as being a believable woman in her own right, also served as a reminder of how multicultural Europe was during this period of history.
Whether you’re familiar with Shakespeare or not, if you love stories about magic and motherhood and queer women in a historical setting, Miranda in Milan is a novella you need to get your hands on.