Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood: Review

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood Muse Monthly book review

I want to share a little story about how this epic partnership came to be. Even before Muse Monthly officially launched, I knew I wanted to do author curated boxes. It was something I could only dream about, and had a wishlist of people I wanted to work with. But of course, when a business is young, you have to stay reasonable. No one knew about Muse Monthly yet, and there was no way someone who had published several award-winning novels would want to dedicate any time to a new subscription box.

After our collaboration with V.E. Schwab (which happened because I asked her through instagram), I felt a little more confident in asking my publishing friends if we could do something similar again. I asked who had books coming out that might be interested, and a few names were tossed around, Ms. Atwood’s being one of them. Never in a million years did I think she’d agree to it – but they asked, and she did.

Of course, it helps that she’s a tea lover.

I feel so grateful to Ms. Atwood for taking time out and signing bookplates, choosing a tea, and writing a lovely letter about her book to our faithful subscribers. This collaboration was beyond a dream come true.

I knew Hag-Seed was going to be a fantastic read. The Tempest was the first Shakespeare play I ever read, so I feel a lot of attachment to the story. It was assigned my eighth grade year and I remember being swept up by the magic, by spirits and monsters and revenge. It is one of Shakespeare’s best.

Ms. Atwood has taken the tale and not only modernized it, but presented it in a way that feels so real and concrete it is impossible not to flip eagerly through the pages. Her take on the Tempest changes Prospero to Felix, an artistic director for the theater, who is usurped and fired by his co-worker, Tony. Felix, devastated to lose his job after also losing his wife and child, Miranda, takes a job teaching Shakespeare in a prison. Here, he is able to use his talents and bring his production of the Tempest to life.

Atwood presents a meta-theatrical version of the Tempest – a play within a play, echoing aspects of the original play. The creation of theatrical magic is paramount in Atwood’s version, primarily present in how the prisoners bring the play to life with limited resources. Atwood brings The Tempest into a real world; the prison becomes the island, betrayal is bureaucratic. Atwood expertly writes the themes reflected on multiple levels – the ‘real world’ finding echoes in Shakespeare’s text, as well as the play being mirrored by the characters. She writes with an expert intricacy, and creates an intense revenge plot that makes Hag-Seed a real page-turner.

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo – Review & Playlist

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo book review Muse Monthly

The Gentleman was one of those books that came along to me as an underdog. A lot of the time when I’m choosing a book, there are a few options for each month, but one stand out. Then, like this month, there were a lot of books that seemed exciting but were just not right for some reason – either the story just wasn’t as compelling as I’d hoped, or it’s too similar to something we’ve done before. And then something different, something I would have never thought to look at will emerge from under my disastrously large To Be Read pile, and it will be perfect. A diamond in the rough.

And that’s what we do over here at Muse Monthly – we’re all about finding that hidden gem.

And The Gentleman was just awesome. It’s a fun, easy read, which we all need sometimes. We all need a laugh, especially when the real would can be so stressful.

What stands out for me about The Gentleman is how easily writer Forrest Leo captures the style of Victorian literature. The narrative voice of lovelorn poet Lionel Savage is strong throughout, colored by the sassy footnotes of his fictional editor. For someone who enjoys the anachronism, it was refreshing to read something so wonderfully stylized. And the story itself brought to mind the best of adventure stories – Around the World in 80 Days meets the tales of Allan Quatermain meets Doctor Faustus, with hilarious mishaps and trysts along the way. It’s safe to say, you’ll never read another book like The Gentleman. It’s nerdy and weird and funny, and best read with a lovely cup of tea – or maybe a glass of wine.