Miranda in Milan
by Katharine Duckett
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted August 23, 2020
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Katharine Duckett's Miranda in Milan is another novella from tor.com, a sequel to Shakespeare's The Tempest. Miranda is betrothed to Ferdinand, son of Alonso, the King of Naples. For some reason she is not allowed to stay in Naples, where she had received a queen's welcome. Instead her father Prospero takes her back to Milan, a city in which she feels an outsider, a monster. Her deceased mother's cousin Agata forces her to wear a heavy veil whenever she leaves her room, which is usually only to attend Mass at the nearby Duomo cathedral. She isn't allowed to eat in the castle's dining hall, she hardly ever sees her father, and most of the servants won't talk to her or even look at her. Whenever any of them do look upon her face, they seem frightened, muttering to themselves, "Bice. Bice." Except for Dorothea that is, with whom she begins a secretive friendship. Dorothea admits to being a witch, and that the others think Miranda is a ghost.
In addition to all the connections to Shakespeare's play, the story is just as much a gothic romance. Miranda had no memory of her mother, since she had been very young when Prospero was expelled from Milan by his brother Antonio, both of them castaway on an uncharted island for twelve years. Ferdinand was the first man she had seen since, other than her father and Caliban, her father's slave. Being a naive young girl, she didn't think to question why she fell in love with Ferdinand so quickly, and he with her. Only on later ruminations did she realize how her father had maniputlated her and many others with his magic, which was the reason Antonio had usurped his dukedom. Dorothea reveals the many secret tunnels and passageways within the walls and under the castle, where Miranda stumbles upon her uncle Antonio imprisoned. Later, when she is allowed to attend a masquerade, her face covered, a stranger leads her to a gallery to reveal a hidden painting, which Miranda at first believes to be of her. Dorothea tells her it is of her mother, Beatrice, whose nickname was Bice. Who was the stranger? Why did they want her to see how much she resembled her mother? At least she knows why everyone thought of her as a ghost, Beatrice returned from the dead. But is her mother truly dead? No one will speak to her about it, not even her father. How will she ever learn the truth? Perhaps magic?
As highly regarded as Shakespeare is, his work needs to be dramatized to be fully appreciated. I re-read The Tempest before this, or at least did my best. The cadence of speech, the archaic turns of phrase, are difficult for me to parse just from words on a page. This novella has a more modern style, but is just as poetic, perhaps more so. It surprises me it did not receive more award nominations, but the only one I could confirm was from the Golden Crown Literary Society, for which it tied with three other titles. One way in which it is superior to the original is in its feminist message. Miranda comes to realize she can chart her own destiny, that she is not controlled by her father, by Ferdinand, or any man for that matter. I won't detail the ways in which she is reunited with her mother, nor what leads her to flee Milan, shun Naples, to set off in search of that idyllic island, in hopes of making amends with Caliban and Ariel. Beatrice had seen into Miranda's heart, knew whom she loved. "Love is life, Miranda. It matters not in what form it comes." Endings are also new beginnings. We don't have to know all the details, that can be left to the imagination. For now I am content to imagine, "Three women at the end of everything, holding fast to the edge of the earth, in thunder, lightning, and in rain." Another tempest, but one that will nurture rather than destroy.
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