I got this book from Barnes and Noble when they had all their hardbacks on sale for half-price after Christmas. I really racked up that day as I had a gift card and some cash gifts to spend on me and book stores are my jam.
The cover of this book drew me in immediately. I like the Tudor era and have read a lot of both fiction and nonfiction set in that time period. This one was fiction and about Christopher Marlowe. A lot of the story was clearly historically inaccurate, but that didn’t take away from the tale at all.
The author placed Kit in interesting situations, including the plot with Babington and Mary, Queen of Scots. I liked that she did that as it made the history of the time period (with artistic license, of course) more vivid, especially with the description of the beheading of the prisoner queen. It was visceral for the reader and emotional for our protagonist.
One of the things that made me sad and hurt a lot for Marlowe was the way he was treated by the people he was recruited to work for as a spy. They were unkind and basically treated him like he was less than human. It was as if they had no idea he had feelings and loved ones. All they wanted was what they wanted with no regard for him as a person. I imagine that part was definitely historically accurate. Him being in the corridors of power must have really rankled with some of the people who deemed themselves above him. The class system was in full swing—as I’m sure is still true in some areas of the world but it hurt my heart to read how badly he was treated when all he wanted to do was help his country and he kept his loyalties to the crown even in the face of this terrible treatment.
The author, Allison Epstein, did a marvelous job in making this time period come alive. In some passages, I could swear I smelled the stench of the streets, the pubs and the jail cell. Dingy, dark alleys evoked creepiness and the castles with candles and stoic, cruel men were easy to visualize as well. The memory of Fotheringay Castle with its dead queen on the floor, bloodied and surrounded by beads of her rosary lived on in the mind of our protagonist as well as this reader.
Overall, this was a good story. I can’t really say I enjoyed it due to the sadness and the way poor Kit was treated. And, we all know how Marlowe’s life ended, so reading the book with that inevitable ending in mind, I’d have to say that even though it was not a pleasant read, it was compelling and I’m glad I picked it up. I recommend it as a must-read, but be ready to be appalled by man’s inhumanity to man…even in a work of fiction.
This meticulously well-researched book surprised me in a few ways. I’ve long been a history buff and intrigued by the House of Tudor and all the various courtiers who inhabited that world. I attended elementary school in Virginia which is steeped in early colonial history. My family took full advantage of that and we spent many a weekend at various historical sites—to say nothing of school field trips. Queen Elizabeth I was one of the first monarchs I remember learning about. Of course, as a child, I had no idea of the machinations of her royal court but that foundation started a lifelong journey of amateur study of history.
I was intrigued to read a full length story about the Earl of Essex. Of course I’d heard/read, many times, he went from queen’s favorite to execution but most of what I’d read skimmed pretty quickly over his exploits and how he ended up on the scaffold. This story pulled me into his world and his psychology. The man obviously was affected by his upbringing and the early death of his father as well as being raised away from his family (which I know happened often in those days). It was as if he had something to prove, but he didn’t have the proper guidance to learn to cope with life and how to compromise to get along in the world.
His refusal to listen to orders and defy his superiors in battle was remarkable. I was amazed he lasted as long as he did with the defiance he showed to the queen. She truly had a major soft spot for him which seems very unusual based on her intolerance for foolish behavior from many others. He sure took advantage of this soft spot and, after reading this book, I think it actually emboldened him to continue making rash decisions. Perhaps if she’d taken a sterner hand with his shenanigans, things would have been very different for him.
The detail of his last-stand march on the palace was almost unbelievable. It was a powerfully written scene—and not in a good way. I kept shaking my head at his actions. Even though I knew the outcome was his execution, I had to keep asking myself what the heck he was thinking and how he thought there would be a victory for him in all his rashness. He knew Queen Elizabeth was no stranger to ordering executions, but he clearly thought he was immune to her wrath to that extent since he’d gotten away with insubordination in the past. The defiance of her authority was arrogant and astounding. This book really brought that home in a way that it never had been to me before.
The author really made this story come alive. The background of Essex’s childhood, loss of love and family, along with his need to prove himself (and going into debt over and over in that quest) and his lack of awareness led to his downfall. The author is to be commended for the way he made this story real and relevant to our time. The psychology of this character is intriguing and based on his behaviors, it was only a matter of time before he enraged the Queen past redemption. I recommend this book highly for an in-depth study of Essex and his character. It reads like a novel but was clearly based on the history and well-researched.