Elizabeth Bear – The Stratford Man (Ink&Steel and Hell&Earth)

Kit Marley, playwright and spy in the service of Queen Elizabeth, has been murdered. His true gift to Her Majesty was his way with words, crafting plays infused with a su btle magic that maintained her rule. He performed this task on behalf of the Prometheus Club, a secret society of nobles engaged in battle against sorcerers determined to destroy England. Assuming Marley’s role is William Shakespeare— but he is unable to create the magic needed to hold the Queen’s enemies at bay.

Resurrected by enchantment in Faerie, Marley is England’s only hope. But before he can assist Will in the art of magic, he must uncover the traitor among the Prometheans responsible for his death…

After Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths, Elizabeth Bear’s duology featuring an alternative version of the Shakespeare and Marlowe we know from history definitely the best thing I’ve read this year. Imagine Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe in an Elizabethan setting paired with faires and then add to that the appearance of Morgan Le Fey and her son as well as recurring references to both Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s plays. Honestly this made me do two things: a) want to re-read my favorite Shakespeare works (mostly the tragedies) and b) switch classes for the coming semester from British Modern Literature to Renaissance. That really doesn’t happen all too often, but those books totally motivated me to study the Elizabethan era closer.

In her extended author’s note at the end of Hell and Earth, Elizabeth Bear calls this duology a ‘disservice to history’, but honestly I couldn’t imagine re-vamping Shakespeare and Marlowe in any better way. She works with some popular theories concerning the two poets’ lives and portrays her characters in a way that make them very realistic and complex. She states that the Marlowe-Shakespeare relationship she creates in The Stratford Man is almost entirely fictional, but then again it really does make you wonder “What if?” and I think that’s been the intention of the book.

The other thing that really intrigued me about those books what its realism and how accurately Bear worked with the historical context such as society and political background. Of course the work is fictional in the end, but she manages to have to write about homosexuality, politics and the entire concept of the Prometheus Club very ‘in context’, which makes the story rounder and the fantasy elements fit into the concept without jarring.

These two books are definitely not quick reads for entertainment only. It took me about two to three days to get through each, not because of the size, but because of the content that’s very heavy on history and politics and last but not least on the language. Bear doesn’t use 100% accurate Elizabethan language in her dialogue (no ‘here sitteth’ etc. no worries), but it’s more or less the speech characters would have used at that time.

Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth are chronologically set before the other two Promethean Age books Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water. I’m just starting Blood and Iron, but had no problems getting into the story and the whole concept of the Prometheus Club, even though the Stratford Man duology came out after the two aforementioned books. It’s definitely a good starting point if you haven’t read any of Bear’s books yet. Definitely go for it 😀

P.S.: This so made Kit Marlowe my favorite hystorical fantasy crossover character of all time 😀 I can’t wait to read more!

2 Responses to “Elizabeth Bear – The Stratford Man (Ink&Steel and Hell&Earth)”

  1. lunarapollo Says:

    I’m so glad someone else appreciates these books as much as I do! I think that the previous books in the series are a bit more exciting from a fantasy plot/action perspective, but the way Bear works with the historical source material was really intriguing. Especially how deftly she combined the dissenting theories on their works. Though the whole thing really works because of how human she makes both Kit and Will without detracting from their brilliance. This is one of the few fictional representations of Shakespeare I’ve read that managed to include the aspects of his work that make them so lasting in his characterization, and it’s great to see Christopher Marlowe finally getting some time in the spotlight.

    And Kit is also one of my favorite characters ever, and I’m so excited that he will in all likelihood be making appearances in the rest of the series. I also think we can expect at least one more book with him in the spotlight!

    I’m a bit concerned however because Elizabeth Bear mentioned in her blog that the publishers were a little disappointed in the initial sales, and the rest of the series may not see print. Fingers crossed that things have picked up a bit and we can look forward to her continued work.

  2. Really Quick Post on Everything « Lunar Apollo’s Blog Says:

    […] And to assure you I’m not crazy here’s a link to another person’s review. […]

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