Author: Jay Lewis Taylor
Publisher: Manifold Press
Cover Artist: oscarcalero|iStockphoto.com
Rating: 4.25 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 05/01/2015
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Historical
Philip Standage – half-Italian, Catholic, Kit Marlowe’s last lover – is one of the Admiral’s Players, the company that rivals Shakespeare’s. Once Nick Hanham wheedles his way in to the Rose theatre, Philip even has an apprentice to share his secure life. Secure, that is, until he is caught up in Sir Robert Cecil’s plans for the future of England, and more than England.
The last years of Elizabeth’s reign gleam light and dark like a coin spinning beside a flame: wealth and dirt, glory and revolt, high poetry and bloody murder. In this uncertain world nothing is what it seems, least of all men, least of all love. Who can Philip rely on? And if he makes the wrong choice, who can save him?
Philip Standage is a seasoned Player, Gabriel Spencer the same, Nicholas Hanham is a young student (around fourteen when this story begins), Sir Robert Cecil is, well, he’s a man with much power and many connections. Their story, and that of many others, centers around the time of Shakespeare, Kit Marlow, The Rose, The Globe, and the sometimes cutthroat, often politically humorous, and often surprising world of theater. That’s as about as simple as I can make it and, even then, we’re sitting atop the tip of the book iceberg.
From page one, I was luxuriating in the language. Not to worry, the story isn’t told in Olde English necessarily, but definitely in the cadence and terminology and colloquialisms of the time. It fits that and the characters. I was giddy. Jay Lewis Taylor knows exactly how to manipulate the words and create a mountain-high fountain of literary chocolate, flowing and gorgeous and almost too much to handle.
This the epitome of a slow building story, slowly evolving characters, slow in the revealing of the effects of their individual pasts on their lives. Ya gotta be patient with this one. It does pay off. Just know, there’s no rushing. A long novel, this be.
There’s more than a trace scent of political intrigue, the true events of the time part of the backdrop to the unexpected sufferings and challenges, as well as the boons and celebrations these characters encounter. Essex, Richard II, Queen Elizabeth, and many more make appearance, even if just by mention. Really, the role they play as a collective is to reflect the power of the fictional characters who are all trying to survive a very dangerous world, whether by sword or disease.
Sarcasm runs strong in this one. The kind that can only thrive when practiced between longtime friends, or enemies. Example: Philip and Cecil. I was not expecting the journey their individual story arc would take.
”You have thought of everything,” Philip said.
“Of course,” Cecil answered. “How else does a man survive?”
Every breath of every character was used in trying to do this very thing. Not all are successful.
Coupled with this is the humor that often accompanies the constant jockeying for top Players, plays, and theater spots. The competition is fierce and the community small. Everyone knows everyone.
For Philip and Nick, it’s a slow bake, but the flirtation between them is well thought out, intentional, with a natural ebb and flow as they trade places between initiator and recipient. Rarely do they share a constant feeling one way or another.
Like life, there’s not really a grand central plot here. Instead, we have all of these people navigating the many obstacles, gifts, and challenges presented them. This is at once exciting and sometimes frustrating. So many moving parts means progress feels quick and smooth in some parts, while choppy and slow in others.
Still, the writing is exquisite, meaty, and joyful:
If Philip had woken in the same room as the other players of Cecil’s Men, he would not have been surprised: it had been a night of dreams, finding his way through the labyrinth to the treasure at its heart.
I think I enjoyed Nick’s growth as a character the most. Starting out a young teenager, very willing to learn, his natural intelligence and ability to take chances increasing as time went along. For me, he’s the lynchpin of this story that spans nearly a decade.
This isn’t solely a romance. It’s fiction, with so many parts of life represented, including the challenges that come with all types of relationships: siblings, father and son, lovers, friends, master and servant, and how all of these can intersect and overlap, and the difficulties they can breed.
This may have taken me quite a while to read but it was all worth it, especially the powerful ending.
If you really enjoy historical fiction, you will more than likely revel in this. Take your time, don’t rush and trip over any of the events or surprises along the way, and have fun spending some time with these people. Bonus: there’s a glossary at the end. 😉
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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