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