When he saves the virtue of a woman in distress, bored teacher Will Shakespeare has no idea how his life will change. Clad in the feminine disguise is none other than scamp and rather terrible spy, Kit Marlowe. He has intercepted a cyphered message from Mary Queen of Scots and Kit is sure the information will be of vital use to Walsingham, Elizabeth’s master spy. He convinces Will to join him on this mission of national importance.
But in an age when a man’s religion might see him drawn and quartered, Will quickly realizes the rush of adventure comes with a brutal price. He and Kit must stay ahead of friends and enemies alike, only to discover neither of them is capable of outrunning their pasts. In the end, sometimes the best a man can do is hope to survive it.
Her Majesty’s Will was a madcap romp through Elizabethan England, penned by an author who clearly has a love for the Bard and the world in which he lived. I think fans of Shakespeare will enjoy this just a shade more than other readers, but there is certainly something here for everyone to appreciate. The author has done a remarkable job of describing and setting the background. Although a working knowledge of Shakespeare will help you appreciate some of the literary subtleties, the historical framework is created in such a way to welcome those who have little knowledge of this period in history. The writing and style of speech is poetic and lyrical, which suites the book’s temperament, but that doesn’t always make it easy to read. Aside from groan-worthy puns and double entendres, there are phrases and language choices that don’t always make sense upon first reading. As a result, Her Majesty’s Will is a book that takes time, sometimes to its detriment. More about that later.
Both Will and Kit pop off the page as vibrantly alive and while this is historical fiction in the truest sense of the word, there is enough realism to make them believable. Kit isn’t always likable and much of his decision making is suspect. More often than not, we wonder why Will insists upon sticking so close to him. Shakespeare himself starts off seeming a rather pathetic specimen, forced into a position he loathes, but without further prospects. We see his discovery and embracing of the arts and while it’s all a bit implausible, there is a wistfulness about his journey that is easy to enjoy.
Like some of Shakespeare’s plays, Her Majesty’s Will suffers greatly from pacing problems. It often gets bogged down in its own attempts to be clever. Instead of simply telling the story, the plot trips over the language that is otherwise so pretty. And there is a lethargy to the plot that drives this book right to the edge of boring before rescuing itself at the brink. In addition to the pacing issues, there are too many characters flitting in and out of the story to keep track of. While they have charming names such as Huffing Kate and Cutting Ball, there were simply so many of them that it was exhausting trying to remember who was who and why they were important.
Her Majesty’s Will is a wonderfully imagined look at the lives of Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe. The characters are richly rendered and the writing original and engaging. The book does suffer from a serious pacing problem, but lucky for us there is so much to enjoy that the novel manages to even itself out. Consider this one recommended.