Friday, August 26, 2016

Romeo and/or Juliet

by Ryan North

Story summary: Two households, both alike in dignity... an ancient grudge and parent's strife... a pair of star-cross'd lovers... a battle with giant robots...

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • It's so funny.
  • The clever Shakespeare references!
  • The clever geek references!
  • It's Romeo and Juliet as a choose-your-own-adventure. How much more awesome can you get?*

And Why You Might Not:
  • Some Christians could be bothered by some of the dislike of marriage that appears. It's not all like this, but there's enough that it's not just a passing remark one can ignore easily.
  • If your sense of humour isn't the sort of self-referential nerdiness often seen on the Internet and such places, you're likely not going to get much out of this. (On the other hand, if it's not your thing, maybe this would the perfect introduction to just how funny it can be!)

Thoughts: I love, love, love this sort of book. It's not deep or profound and sometimes the author misunderstands Shakespeare (perhaps on purpose), but it's clever and it's hilarious in just the right way for me. It's meta; it's geeky; it's full of Internet humour; it has clever and hilarious artwork as well, from artists I actually recognize from online. There is nothing like being able to end your story as a muscular, pirate version of Juliet Capulet.

Though in comparison to the first book like this North created, To Be or Not to Be, I didn't like it quite as much. Mostly because the artwork wasn't as prominent this time around. Also because I liked Ophelia as a heroine much better than Juliet. Science beats muscles, almost always. (Though they were actually fairly similar in some "strong female heroine" ways. They can both have tendencies towards extreme murder, for instance. Some day North should write a heroine who is sweet and gentle, just for contrast.)
I was also a bit bothered by what seemed to be a disdain for marriage. True, one shouldn't go about it the way Romeo and Juliet did, but it's a very, very good thing in itself. Fortunately, as I progressed, there seemed to be more "marriage can actually be great!" endings. (#49 is one of the nicest.) There was even a bit of a defense on rash marriage (#187)!

But despite these criticisms, it was still hilarious and awesome! I recommend it! (I mean, any book that has "Take revenge on the ninjas" as an option has got to be awesome, right?)

Random note time. A bit spoiler-y perhaps. Read at your own risk.
  • There seems to be one minor character in both his books that he just makes so darn sympathetic that I wish the whole book was about them. In To Be or Not to Be it was Horatio, in this one, it's Benvolio (espeically in #48--d'awwwww).
  • The ending where EVERYONE IS GOTH. (#153) Or where Romeo LITERALLY dies an Old Maid (#95). Or the one with the horses... (#259) I can't even with that one.
  • "You're going to love each other so fiercely, Romeo, so completely. Your two houses will have no choice but to start liking each other, because you and Juliet won't accept anything less. You're going to be the change you want to see in the world, and you're going to do it all by loving this woman with everything you've got and by her loving you just as hard in return. Ready, Romeo? Here goes." (#174) Every once in a while, I find Ryan North very inspiring, and though I don't think that happens as often as he means it to happen, it did indeed happen this time.
  • The whole "raising your hand" joke that runs through the book is hilarious each and every single time. Never gets old, imho. (#209 is one of the best, with the shushing and all.)
  • #252 has very bad religious reasoning, which might be there simply to be funny and because Juliet is obviously being irrational here. But I get the feeling so often for these things that people actually thing this is a reasonable argument against religion. So it bugs me.
  • The "Twelfth Night" reference! (#265) TN is one of my favourite Shakespeares, and this makes me really wish Ryan North would write his next Choose Your Own Adventure on Twelfth Night. So many possibilities!
  • The whole bonus character of Rosaline with the gritty, noir detective theme was super fun. I was a little disappointed when I thought she was gay (#287), because Ryan North has most of his female character be at least bi, it seems, and yet never seems to emphasize that not having lots of sex can be a good choice too. He even made fun of the choice of remaining single and celibate by saying she "made up some garbage about being sworn to chastity". But then it turned out her one female love was The Truth! I was so happy! A female detective whose great love is The Truth! You don't come across that often.
  • The part where he finally got to the Romeo AND Juliet (#353) was SO great. And then the ending on #466...The picture on the next page just makes it extra, extra funny. It's also interesting when you realize then that the whole book previously had been missing a key element of the title.

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

If You Like This, You Might Also Like:
  • Of course To Be or Not to Be by Ryan North, his first choose-your-own-adventure Shakespeare book, because it's brilliant and I love it.
  • Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster: Because it's another great choose-your-own-adventure. Not as funny or clever or fun as TBoNtB or Ra/oJ, but amusing none-the-less.
  • Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett: Because it's a great addition to the Discworld series, and has tons of Romeo and Juliet references. (I wouldn't necessarily read it if I hadn't read Pratchett before, though.)
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion: Because it has Romeo and Juliet references as well, and it's quite a bit more beautiful and interesting than I would have guessed from the synopsis. Also the movie is hilarious and surprisingly good.
  • For some other unique and unusual retellings of Shakespeare that I love: "The Taming of the Shrew" from the "Shakespeare Retold" BBC series: it's Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell, can't get much better; "Rosencratnz and Guildenstern Are Dead", both the movie and the play by Tom Stoppard: Hamlet has never been so funny, philosophical, and meta; "Nothing Much to Do" the webseries retelling of "Much Ado About Nothing": it's definitely an amateur production, but if you're willing to sit through lesser quality, this retelling of "Much Ado About Nothing" is great and also super Kiwi.
  • And while you're at it, why not watch some of the Master undiluted? My favourite Shakespeare adaptions are probably Kenneth Branagh's Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night, and Richard II from the "Hollow Crown" series (haven't seen any of the rest of it yet, so can only recommend that one, but it was great).
* There's an answer to that. You could get Hamlet as a choose-your-own-adventure. It's the only thing more awesome.

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