Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

Miranda in Milan is a charming book that offers a queer take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It continues the story a few weeks after the play’s ending (so SPOILERS for a 400 year old play, I guess). Miranda and her father have triumphantly returned to Milan from their remote island. But the island is the only home Miranda remembers, and despite her position as the lord’s daughter, she finds herself shunned and isolated. Moreover, her father has not given up his magical powers as he had promised; Miranda realises he has not told her the whole truth of her family’s dark past and exile to the island. The only one who doesn’t avoid Miranda is her maid Dorothea, and the two lonely women begin to grow closer.

I’d never read or watched The Tempest before I’d heard of Miranda in Milan. I’m always on the lookout for f/f stories though (plus the cover is really pretty), so I awaited the book eagerly. It didn’t disappoint! However, after the first couple pages I went back and read the original play, and I recommend everyone to at least read the wiki article before starting Miranda in Milan. The book does a good job explaining the backstory, but in my opinion it works better if you’re familiar with the characters and themes of the original, which it toys with.

The main focus of Miranda in Milan is Miranda herself: a lonely, abused and naive woman who has internalised a lot of her father’s views. Her life on the island was much freer than in the castle of Milan, where she is derided as a wild girl and is sequestered in her room. But it’s also her first time encountering opinions about the wider world that differ than he father’s. Watching her re-examine her own beliefs about her father and the world, and grow beyond them, was fantastic.

It’s also Miranda’s first time encountering other women. In the play, she falls in love with the prince of Naples, who was shipwrecked on the island. Miranda in Milan continues that thread very logically. It’s not that Miranda never loved the prince… but also he was literally the first person she’d ever met as an adult. Her increasing understanding of her own feelings and attraction to Dorothea is very sweet. Their relationship starts off very unequal, with Dorothea much more worldly but Miranda of a much higher social status, but the inequality is handled with care.
I also really liked Dorothea, a Moroccan with witchy powers, in her own right. While she doesn’t get as deep a character arc like Miranda does, neither did I feel that she was shoved into the story just to serve as Miranda’s guide-slash-lover. It’s just that in contrast to Miranda she knows who she is and what she wants a lot better already. I’d happily read a prequel or sequel with Dorothea as the protagonist instead.

Thematically, the book fits into the body of work that examines The Tempest from a post-colonial perspective. (I told you the wiki page is useful.) A large part of Miranda’s growth is re-interpreting what her father had done to the island’s original inhabitants, as presented in the play. With Dorothea, the perspective of an immigrant from a colonised country is also given directly. I really liked the little details here. For example, Dorothea prefers others not to use her real name both because it marks her as a foreigner but also because it’s just exhausting to hear your name constantly mispronounced.

One last thing I’d like to quickly mention is the prose. Miranda in Milan flows very smoothly and in my opinion it balances the Shakespearean adaptation aspect well. That is, the dialogue and prose are nowhere near as old-fashioned as the original play’s, but neither does it feel odd to read Shakespeare’s characters talking as they do in the book.

Altogether, I found Miranda in Milan a delightful book. I’m sure I didn’t get as much out of it as proper Shakespearean scholars would, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless. And I… may actually go read some more of Shakespeare’s plays now. In hopes that there’ll be more cute, queer, post-colonial fantasy book reinterpretations.

Especially recommended for:

  • People looking for f/f romance
  • Fans of retellings/reinterpretations (though this isn’t a direct retelling)
  • …So fans of fanfic, I guess?
  • Shakespeare fans
  • People who enjoyed The Goblin Emperor
  • People who enjoyed the themes of The Traitor Baru Cormorant but wouldn’t mind something a lot fluffier. Like, a lot fluffier.
  • Oh also there’s dark magic, so fans of creepy stuff

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