For those who have ever thought about reading at least one alternate history novel, Harry Turtledove’s Ruled Britannia is the one you should try. The premise of the novel is the successful invasion of England via the famed Spanish Armada by the Duke of Parma’s army that places Queen Elizabeth in captive within the Tower of London and places Philip II’s daughter Isabella on the throne along side her husband-cousin Albert. Almost 10 years later, celebrated English playwright Williams Shakespeare is brought into a conspiracy to write and stage a play that will insight London to rise up upon learning of the death of Philip, but then Shakespeare must contend with the occupying Spaniards wanting him to write a play in tribute of Philip to by staged upon news of this death.
The novel is seen from only two point-of-view characters: Shakespeare and Lope de Vega, an officer in the occupying Spanish army fluent in English and an unpublished playwright. Through their eyes the setting of Spanish-occupied late 16th-century London comes alive as well as the individuals the two encounter without throughout the novel, including those they both interact with. Obviously it allows the reader to view both sides of Spanish-controlled Catholic England politically speaking, but also religiously. Although both men are friendly with one another, especially as Shakespeare doesn’t want to upset an officer of the occupying army, there is an unspoken barrier between the two the reader readily recognizes that is present throughout the novel that adds to the story.
The use of late 16th-century English speech patterns by Turtledove brought an authentic feel to the story, though it does take a little time to get use nonetheless by the end of the book its very easy to follow. Though the story does seem to tread water around the 60-70% mark, in retrospect the events that happen therein really pay off throughout the climax of the story. With all of this said, if you’ve ever wanted to read an alternate history novel this standalone work by Harry Turtledove is the one you should try.