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Act of Will by A. J. Hartley

Act of Will

by A. J. Hartley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Will Hawthorne (1)

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139786,313 (3.78)1

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If a Professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, who also specializes in the performance history, theory and criticism of Renaissance English drama, and works as a director and dramaturg, were to write a fantasy novel, this book might be what he would write. Oh, wait.
Nice job, sir. A fun romp through a world that might be kissing cousins with ours, with a touch of magic thrown in. And, there's a sequel. Huzzah!

Just recently went to a reading of HArtley's and I asked him about the genre hopping he does in his writing. He said that he likes to read all sorts of things, so why not write all sorts? Luckily, he's good enough that he can do that. I look forward to reading more in this series, in other series, and other genres. ( )
  bookczuk | May 16, 2017 |
4 1/2 stars
Truly a rollicking romp.

Will is constantly getting out of one scrape and getting into another. The fact that he often gets himself into situations is balanced by the fact that sometimes his wit and storytelling skills get him out.

The theme of the book, as expressed in the last chapter: "Words, like swords, have a way of getting people into and out of trouble."

There is plenty of swordplay, battle scenes, frustrated circumstances, and amazing friendships. Not to mention magic. Highly recommended fantasy world with real-life lessons.

I'm looking forward to the sequel. (After I finish the books I checked out from the public library.) ( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
This was a book where the protagonist was so annoying and his persistent inability to learn from his life experiences meant that this was very much a two star read for a greater percentage of the book. It finally became better towards the end.
Will, a starving actor, who runs foul of authority, has to throw his lot in with a small band of principled mercenaries. Why they put up with him is beyond understanding.
Apart from Will, the world-building is good and the mystery that has to be solved with the accompanying politics ended up making this a 3 star read. ( )
  quiBee | Jan 21, 2016 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

A.J. Hartley is best known as a writer of best-selling mystery-thriller novels, as a distinguished professor of Shakespeare in the English Department at University of North Carolina, and as editor of the Shakespeare Bulletin published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Dr. Hartley’s theater expertise is readily apparent in Act of Will, the first book of his first fantasy series.

It’s Will Hawthorne’s 18th birthday and he is finally a man. Today he hopes to be promoted to playing male parts and penning plays for his acting company. But, O how full of briars is this working-day world! Will instead finds himself on the run from The Empire, dashing across rooftops in a dress and blond curly wig with an arrow stuck in his thigh. As good luck would have it, he’s rescued by a strange troop of a different type, and off he goes to have adventures, to (reluctantly) fight evil, and to learn that all the world is not a stage.

I liked Act of Will from the very first paragraph. That’s kind of surprising because Will Hawthorne is not my kind of hero. Not only does he have no heroic qualities, but he has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever: he’s arrogant, selfish, unscrupulous, lazy, immature, thin, weak, and cowardly. He is true only to his own self. The only things he does well are to BS his way out of tight spots and to run like hell when he can’t talk his way out. When a hero is called for, Will’s first concern is how to remove himself from the situation in order to save his own skin. Will Hawthorne is, quite simply, not a likeable person. It’s no wonder he has no friends, and not much of a life either.

But Will is so open, blunt, and unapologetic about his inglorious personality that he somehow ends up being kind of disarmingly charming and you’re always hoping that perhaps he’s got just a scrap of mettle deep inside that might find its way to the surface. Occasionally he manages to screw his courage to the sticking place, but for every time he does something remotely heroic, he does something equally cowardly.

But what really kept me reading Act of Will is that the writing is altogether perfect. I would expect no less from an English/Shakespeare professor, but it’s so rarely that I can say this that I feel the need to point it out. The prose flows trippingly along and it’s funny. I liked Will’s cynical and sarcastic voice (it’s written in the first person). This could have been so easily overdone, but I found that I didn’t tire of it. The dialogue, both internal and external, is crisp and believable.

I took my mug, sauntered over to the table where the others sat, swinging the crossbow roguishly by its strap, and cast Renthrette an easy smile. She might as well have been wearing her armor, because it glanced off and fell in some dustless corner.

The writing style is clearly Dr. Hartley’s greatest talent. So for this reason, I found Act of Will to be delightful and entertaining and worth my time. However, there was a problem with Act of Will which I have seen before in first fantasy novels written by authors who are popular in other genres: too many plot points wouldn’t hold up to high scrutiny. For example, it is never explained (nor does Will ever wonder) why the magic sword and staff that have gotten them out of some tricky spots before can’t be used the same way in similar tricky spots. We get several clues about the origin and powers of the evil raiders who are terrorizing three countries, but never a full disclosure. And how is it that Will’s otherwise normal horse could have, according to the map in the front of the book, carried him nearly 300 miles in 24 hours … with a full night’s sleep in the middle, and apparently without any ill effects on either Will or the horse.

There are a few other sloppy spots that the editor should have noticed: in one scene Will gets down from a wagon that he had already dismounted two pages previously, there were times when characters with no magical powers seemed to suddenly and unnaturally translocate, and the maneuvers and proceedings of the last battle scene were an improbable fiction. I have no idea why authors who are popular in other genres might fall guilty to the Sloppy Fantasy Plot Syndrome. It troubles me to speculate, so I’ll choose to believe it’s just coincidence.

So. … To read, or not to read; that is the question… And this is the short and the long of it: Act of Will is like a Shakespearean comedy — really entertaining, very funny in places, contains an occasional cheesy monologue, and uses several unbelievable plot devices. Act of Will is a bit clumsy, but I found its style appealing. So far I like this series and willingly could waste my time in it. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
Set in a low-magic fantasy world roughly comparable to late Elizabethan England, Act of Will is a coming-of-age story. The title is a pun; the narrator, Will Hawthorne, starts the novel as a callow and immature actor, falling from one scrape into another, with very little deep thought guiding any of his actions. Hardly anything he does is actually an 'act of will'. It's an open question, I think, whether that aspect of his personality changes in the course of the novel, but the character certainly deepens, and he develops from being obnoxious to (somewhat) sympathetic. The biggest challenge of the book is that Will's narrative voice for the first half of the book is really annoying (not particularly funny), which doesn't really jibe with the notion that Will is telling the story after-the-fact, and after his gradual accumulation of empathy and depth. The plot - Will falls in with a group of adventurers sent to discover the force behind a series of brutal raids -- is fine, but the draw to make it through the book is Will's relationships with the other party members. ( )
  bezoar44 | Mar 22, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
A. J. Hartleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Youll, PaulCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765321246, Hardcover)

Act of Will is a boisterous fantasy adventure that introduces us to Will Hawthorne, a medieval actor and playwright who flees the authorities only to find himself inextricably bound to a group of high-minded adventurers on a deadly mission. Will travels with them to a distant land where they are charged with the investigation and defeat of a ruthless army of mystical horsemen, who appear out of the mist leaving death and devastation in their wake.

In the course of Will’s uneasy alliance with his new protectors, he has to get his pragmatic mind to accept selfless heroism (which he thinks is absurd) and magic (which he doesn’t believe in). Will must eventually decide where his loyalties really lie and how much he is prepared to do--and believe--to stand up for them.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:58 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

This fantasy by a Shakespearean scholar tells the story of hapless young actor William Hawthorne in a fictional world that, not unlike Elizabethan England, brims with intrigue. Saving his neck by joining a band of heroes led by a warrior possessed of a magical and powerful sword, Hawthorne unwittingly joins a battle against an evil empire bent on crushing everyone to its will.… (more)

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