Her Majesty's Will

Her Majesty's Will
By David Blixt
Published on April 23, 2012
Published by Sordelet Ink
Source: Netgalley

Summary from Goodreads:

Before he was famous, he was a fugitive. 
Before he wrote of humanity, he lived it. 
Before he was the Bard of Avon, he was a spy.

A very poor spy.

England, 1586. Swept up in the skirts of a mysterious stranger, Will Shakespeare becomes entangled in a deadly and hilarious misadventure as he accidentally uncovers the Babington Plot, an attempt to murder Queen Elizabeth herself. Aided by the mercurial wit of Kit Marlowe, Will enters London for the first time, chased by rebels, spies, his own government, his past, and a bear. 

Through it all he demonstrates his loyalty and genius, proving himself to be - HER MAJESTY'S WILL.

My thoughts...

Her Majesty's Will takes what's generally considered a "lost" period in William Shakespeare's life and spins a wild tale of what, exactly, he could have been up to.  I'll admit to not knowing much about Shakespeare's life or that particular time in English history, but the book works just as well without that knowledge.  You can read it instead as a tale of two well-meaning but generally bumbling spies trying to serve the Queen.  It would help if you had some knowledge of the language of the time -- there are a lot of puns, wordplay, and jesting that don't make a lot of sense in modern English, but were all the rage during that time period.  Even a passing familiarity with Shakespeare's plays will help.

The author does a a great job of giving you a feel for London in the late 1500s, both for the society and the environment.  Many famous landmarks which still stand today, including the Tower of London, are featured in the book.  The story is entertaining but complicated, with a whole host of characters and intrigues to keep track of.  Spies, thieves, beggars, assassins, and more cross the pages of the book,  and there is a lot of moving about, through the English countryside and then London itself -- not to mention all of the twists and turns as Will and Kit try to uncover the full depths of the Babington Plot.  And while parts of the story may not necessarily make sense, it all works, because Will is left in the dark about half of the details, and Kit jumps to conclusions with often disastrous effect.  When your main characters don't know what's going on, it seems less important to make the plot clear to the readers, especially when all comes out in the end.

Like Shakespeare and Kit (Christopher) Marlowe, many of the people and events in the book are real, although significantly altered.  The Babington Plot was a real event, although it didn't involve Shakespeare or Marlowe or their band of crooks and conspirators.  One of the best parts of the book are lines from Shakespeare's plays that get tossed about in regular dialogue -- they're used in ways that fit rather than being shoehorned in, and you can see the beginnings of some of Shakespeare's timeless plays, the ideas planted during his brief stint as a very poor spy.

I thought the book was very witty and smartly written.  A lot of research must have gone into it to make it feel and sound as authentic as it did.  I think perhaps it was a bit too long and it dragged towards the middle, but whenever there were action scenes, rather than the characters debating and just planning for action, the pace picked up.  

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