The Black Death scours 16th-century England, Elizabeth I seems strangely distant from her country's troubles, and someone is killing the spies who keep information about England's enemies flowing to the palace. When Will Swyfte, England's most notorious spy, learns of the death of his friend, the playwright and spy Christopher Marlowe, he vows to pursue the murderer even if the trail leads to the Unseelie Court, the nation's most dangerous foe. Swyfte's (The Silver Skull) second adventure not only explores court schemes but also draws a poignant portrait of a man whose plays once rivaled those of Shakespeare and whose literary career ended in a senseless tragedy. VERDICT Meticulous attention to detail and a seamless blend of magic and intrigue make this sequel essential for alternate history aficionados and period history buffs.
Addition to Chadbourn's dark historical fantasy series (followingThe Silver Skull, 2009) set in the waning years of England's Elizabethan age.
In 1593, the Black Death stalks London's fetid streets, while suitably dark intrigues swirl about England's spymasters. Following the death of spymaster-in-chief Sir Francis Walsingham, Will Swyfte, "England's greatest spy," reports to Sir Robert Cecil. Unfortunately, Cecil, preoccupied with personal prestige and defeating the contrivances of the Earl of Essex's rival spy network, refuses to listen to Will's terrible news. English spies—an overabundance of spies indeed—are being murdered in ritual fashion consistent with some deeply hidden strategy of the Unseelie Court: the Fay with all their evil magic are about to spring a trap to engulf not just England but all of Europe. Having uncovered the details, Christopher Marlowe, playwright, spy and Will's greatest friend, hides in fear of his life, not daring to appear even for the first performance of his latest play,Dr. Faustus.Indeed, during the performance, somebody summons a devil that clamps itself to Will's psyche. When Marlowe is found murdered in a gambling den, Will, with few allies, must join forces with the spirited but treacherous Irish spy Meg O'Shee, the exiled magician Dr. John Dee and a mysterious cabal of plotters that calls itself the School of Night. While individual scenes are often memorable, the characters are not, and the overall design sinks beneath the smothering weight of detail and improbably tortuous plotting. The lack of originality doesn't help.
So much happens to so little effect that none of it really matters.