Top critical review
One person found this helpful
Yes, folks, it's really as bad as everyone says...
on December 7, 2016
WARNING: Despite this book being particularly infamous and plenty spoiled in Internet circles, I'll go ahead and say it -- this review contains spoilers. Proceed with caution if you really don't want this book's "twist" spoiled.
Call me a thrill seeker, or accuse me of having "bile fascination" or "train-wreck curiosity" -- when I heard how awful this book was supposed to be, I knew I had to read it. It's one thing for a book by a nobody to fall flat on its face after publication, but quite another thing for an author as established and reputable (or at least reputable at one time) as Orson Scott Card to release such a controversial stinker. And for having such a limited print run, this book REALLY created shock waves upon its publication. Me being cheap, I ended up borrowing this book from the library, just to see if it was as awful as everyone was making it out to be.
Spoiler alert -- it really is that bad. My more detailed, blow-by-blow thoughts on this book are elsewhere (I sporked it on my blog, "Tales From the Shelves"), but in short, this book is not only an offense to Shakespeare's original play, but badly written to boot.
Essentially Orson Scott Card has decided that in order to make William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" more "interesting," he needed to rewrite it for modern audiences. In doing so, however, he cuts out much of what made the original play interesting. Instead of the flawed and complex characters, moral ambiguities, and philosophical introspection of the original play, we get a cut-and-dry tale of revenge and murder with dry, boring characters who are either pure and virtuous or irredeemably evil. Instead of thoughtful discussions of morality, religion, and insanity, we get endless ramblings about Hamlet's daddy issues and browbeat by how perfect and righteous our Prince of Denmark is. And instead of a climactic ending that makes one question whether Hamlet's attempt at vengeance was truly worth it, we get a revelation regarding the dead king's true nature that feels so contrived and stupid it made me want to hurl the book at the wall.
Everyone and their dog has already commented on the book's "twist ending," but I'll go ahead and say my piece anyhow. This book is disgusting in its treatment of homosexuals and in the victims of child sexual abuse. Card seems to be of the mind that being molested will, without exception, turn the victims gay or even into child predators themselves, and even verges on saying outright that homosexuality is equal to, if not the same as, pedophilia. These are absolutely deplorable statements, things I would expect out of Jack Chick but NOT from the author of several best-selling sci-fi and fantasy books and series. Not to mention that way too many authors fall into the trap of using rape and pedophilia as "easy" ways of adding drama to a story or making a character evil, and that just feels cheap and trite to me.
Even aside from this book's controversial "twist" ending, it's just bad. Never have ninety pages felt so long to me -- this book is boring. Card managed to take a play full of fascinating moral and philosophical twists and ambiguities and make it boring. He chops out many of the most iconic and fascinating scenes of the play, replacing them with pointless conversations and endless whining about how Hamlet's daddy never really loved him. He takes characters that were flawed but fascinating in the original play and turns them into either virtuous and beloved Mary Sues (Hamlet and Claudius), cartoonishly evil villains (the title character), or flat cardboard cutouts (virtually everyone else). And despite trying to hype Hamlet up as a virtuous and pure young man with none of the self-doubt and moral quandaries of the original Hamlet, Card's version of Hamlet comes across as self-centered and almost sociopathic at times... yet we're supposed to be rooting for him. Way to go, Card.
I've only read part of an Orson Scott Card book before this ("Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus"), and have only seen the film version of "Ender's Game," but after reading "Hamlet's Father," I'm left with such a terrible taste in my mouth that it makes me VERY reluctant to ever read another book by him. Card has come out and protested people's reaction to this book, claiming they're reading too much into it, but all his protestations can't change the fact that he's written a real stinker, and done a vast disservice to the works of Shakespeare in the process. It reads less like the work of a respected sci-fi/fantasy author, and more like "Hamlet" as rewritten by Jack Chick.
In short, this book really is as bad as they say... and I advise everyone, even fans of Orson Scott Card and Shakespeare buffs (ESPECIALLY Shakespeare buffs) stay far away from this.