This Marlowe by Michelle Butler Hallett

26702951I was lucky enough to win this book through a giveaway at 49th Shelf. Thanks to 49th Shelf for hosting the giveaway and to Goose Lane Editions for sending me the book!


I couldn’t be more impressed with the amount of knowledge and historical detail that went into the writing of this book.

“Sweet Christ Jesus. These are the men who run England.” [Kit Marlowe]

It’s 1593., and it is the last couple of months of Christopher Marlowe‘s life. This is a world in which religion and the Queen reign supreme, and those that have the power can arrest and interrogate you for anything and call it treason. The atmosphere is dismal, raw sewage runs freely, fleas and rats are your living companions, and there are few people who you can trust.

[Although Lady Audrey Walsingham’s character was encouraging, she was the only woman in the book who seemed happy to be alive. So I can safely say that I’m glad I was not there.]

There is a large cast of characters to keep straight, and some of them go by more than one name. The reader doesn’t always know who can be trusted, whose side everyone is on, and I imagine this is the way the characters also feel. Always on edge. Always on guard. Poor Thomas Kyd is just going about his business when he is hauled off to Bridewell just because he’s close to Marlowe. And everyone seems to want Marlowe.

Kit’s true study: power, people seeking power and the lies they told, hypocrisies great and small. Eyes up from books and scrolls, he watched people, considered motives, and learned to read secret hearts.

Sir Robert Cecil and Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex; rivals, both vying for Marlowe’s loyalties. I pitied the former and despised the latter. And was confused about whose agents were loyal to whom, and what everyone’s goals were. Sir Robert seems only to want to keep the peace in England, but the Earl of Essex doesn’t seem as honorable. One thing is sure; he wants Marlowe and will stop at nothing to have him, or to make it so that no one else can.

The question of who ruled England once Death sank his claws into Queen Elizabeth’s bones: not her concern. One of Robert’s inherited problems, one that ambushed his thoughts at night: the conditional peace of Elizabeth’s reign, the wretched delicacy to it. On her death, would England collapse? Into chaos, civil war, foreign rule? Suffer invasion by a Catholic country, English Jesuits leading the charge?

This book takes time and dedication to the characters, storyline, and language, but the rewards are worth it. (I feel I could hold my own now in a conversation about 1593!) I recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction, but especially to anyone who specifically has an interest in Shakespearean times; the arts, the politics, and the blood.

“Every little thing we are and might be: ’tis already in a book.” [Kit]

Further reading:

A review at Buried In Print

A review at The Miramichi Reader as well as an interview

A review at the Quill & Quire

You can learn more about Michelle Butler Hallett and her other books on her website.


This Marlowe is one of my 10 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books.


30 thoughts on “This Marlowe by Michelle Butler Hallett

  1. Carolyn O says:

    This sounds fun! I have to wait to read it though—I’ve had a book idea percolating for years that deals with similar characters and themes, so I don’t want to be accidentally influenced (if that makes sense).

  2. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    Wow, this sounds so impressive! I keep meaning to read more by/about Christopher Marlowe, as I know he’s a fascinating figure in history, and I know sooooo little about him. Basically all my information about him comes from the film Shakespeare in Love. :p

    • Naomi says:

      Haha! I don’t even remember him in that movie. Weird. I guess it’s been a while since I’ve seen it.
      I didn’t know much about him, either, or any of the other characters in the book. But I’m happy to say that I do now! I did a lot of googling while reading this book, too – it helped to keep everyone straight. I definitely feel smarter!

    • Naomi says:

      I haven’t read many books set in this period, so it’s hard to compare with others, but if you like this time period, then this is a good book to keep in mind!

  3. The Cue Card says:

    This novel seems a bit complex, though Marlowe’s short life and fate seem fascinating. Maybe if he had lived as long as Shakespeare, his plays would be more known & famous. hmm

  4. Read Diverse Books says:

    I wonder, how many of the books you review are also reviewed in Buried in Print? Your blogs are like siblings or cousins, even the names are similar! hehe
    I do like historical fiction, but the idea of a book set during Shakespear’s time doesn’t interest me at the moment. I have loved and still admire,Shakespeare, of course! And you certainly make a great case for why people should read it. I personally like politics and blood in my books.

    • Naomi says:

      Well, there’s definitely politics and blood in this book – maybe too much for some people. But, I also get that it’s a very specific type of book and may not be for everyone.

      I’ll take your comparison of my blog to Buried In Print as a huge compliment. We do have some overlap, but she reads WAY more books than I do! I dream about reading the number of books she reads. 🙂

  5. Heather says:

    This sounds great – definitely right up my alley. It seems similar to Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ – I was questioning loads of characters in that book too. I eventually came to the conclusion that they were each only really loyal to themselves; it helped me to stop questioning their motives 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I think your’re right – many of them were only loyal to themselves. But, for some, both family and lovers came into play, and there was one who truly seemed to be loyal to the Queen/country.
      Wolf Hall is still a book I would like to read sometime!

  6. buriedinprint says:

    One of the things that I loved about this one is the way we feel, as readers, saturated in period detail without the details feeling like they are on display, without the sense that she is showing off her scholarship. It really struck me as finely crafted in that regard. I’m so glad that you read this one, because I so desperately wanted to talk about one of the under-the-skin aspects of the story and I was thrilled we could do so. Pleased to finally read your spoiler-free comments on the work too!

    • Naomi says:

      It did feel effortless on her part, but I can’t even begin to imagine how effort-full it must have been!
      Equally happy I had someone to discuss this with. 🙂

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