I got As I Descended by Robin Talley in a ‘Blind Date with a Book’ from my local Waterstones! The clue was “something wicked this way comes” and this is a quote from Macbeth, which is my favourite Shakespeare play, I couldn’t resist buying it. This is a retelling of the classic tragedy. In Talley’s book, Maria and Lily are almost top of the class and the most popular, behind Delilah though. The girls and their best friend, Brandon, receive some strange messages that convince them they can have whatever they want. But everything comes at a price. There may be a few spoilers ahead, but how much can you spoil a story that’s hundreds of years old?
I haven’t read YA all year as the last few books I’d read just didn’t satisfy me, and I was slowly falling out of love with them. Getting a blind book was a gamble but I was seriously lucky to get a retelling of my favourite play. Even from the first chapter I got the feeling this would be a good book. The opening was intriguing and a new take on the typical Witches in the original play. Talley kept the supernatural theme from Shakespeare but updated it, using tales of spirits instead. This also played well into the racial aspects of the book, being set on what used to be a slave plantation. Continuing on the theme of diversity, As I Descended included two LGBT characters; one being Maria and Lily, which is a new take on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and the other being Brandon and his boyfriend. Unfortunately I don’t read many diverse books, tending to stick with older books that I know are popular, so this was a nice change. It wasn’t an overly important plot point (you’ll know why if you know the story, a lot goes down!) but it did include current problems that often come with sexuality. I also loved the narrative voice. Talley uses third person to explore the viewpoints of several main characters, which not only gives you a more rounded view of plot, but works as a sort of dramatic irony. These swaps were almost like soliloquies, offering a new view on the side that may counteract the main narrative, making us work through the events with the characters.
As for the plot itself, it was mostly the same as the play. The book generally followed the same story and events, but often cause and affect differed. By that, I mean the way the plot progressed up until certain events was different. But then, what young person holds grand meals at a table full of nights? Talley suitably changed the events to suit the new setting, but kept the essence and meaning from the play. The nice thing about this retelling was that, as a huge Shakespeare fan, I could actually see how each chapter of the book corresponded to each scene from the play. As I Descended also kept the supernatural elements within Macbeth, which is a key devise for most tragedies. Rain, lighting, ghosts and ghouls, are all apart of classic tragedy and Shakespeare and were still a part of this novel.
It’s evident that this is a really well thought out retelling. My favourite aspect of this novel was the use of Acts. Yep, you heard that right. As I Descended was split into five acts, just like Macbeth. I’m also pretty sure that each book act had the same number of chapters as each play act had scenes. I didn’t check this, but I’m hoping my Shakespeare knowledge is serving me well! These five acts were named after a famous speech by the witches. If you’re familiar with Shakespeare, you’ll know the age-long battle regarding fate, witches, and the mind, and what really had control over the Macbeth’s. It’s obvious that Talley’s view lies with the witches in her 21st century retelling, but her characters definitely put up a good fight. They were real and afraid, rounded and excited, just like the characters in the play. Talley did a great job of retelling this classic tragedy.
Whilst some of the events were slightly different (I won’t spoil it by saying what), I still absolutely loved this book. Did it gain my praise because of my love of Shakespeare? I’m not sure. Partly yes, but Robin Talley did a great job of updating and changing this novel and still getting me to love it! I know this review is extremely long so thanks for sticking with me, but I just had to get all of my thoughts out for you to read. This is a wonderfully fast-paced novel that created real suspense, which I find novels often lack no matter how hard they try. Not only was it a great homage to Shakespeare, it’s also a great example of a diverse novel. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves YA, theatre, or just wants a good read! As I Descended made me fall in love with YA all over again.
What did you think about the book? Are you a fan of Shakespeare and retellings? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.