Jul. 19th, 2011

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 So I don't normally review books. but I just finished reading the two books of The Stratford Man duology -Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth-by Elizabeth Bear and they completely blew my mind.
The Stratford Man's a long novel set in a fantastic Shakespearean England with Christopher Marlowe-yes, that Christopher Marlowe-as the protagonist and William Shakespeare as a major character. It's about blood and old magic, the fragile bonds between the faery and human worlds, and the lengths to which you would to to protect a friend-or lover. The story's beautifully told and very character driven, but the REAL reason you have to read this book/s is the love pentacle between the poet and playwright Kit Marlowe, the Queen of Faery, the Prince of Faery, William Shakespeare and the Devil.
Yes, the Stratford Man has William Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe in a gay relationship, and the fact it doesn't make me want to stab my eyes out on forks is a testament to Elizabeth Bear's mad writing skillz. A review I read lambasted the books as 'like fan fiction' which I think the reviewer meant in a derogatory sense. The only similarity I personally found was the 'slashing' of historical figures which I found worked well both in the context of the story and as a relationship. The sex scenes are few and far between-this isn't porn- and are sensual rather than gratuitous.
I read both books in a weekend and found them challenging and incredibly absorbing. The only criticism I had was that the politics described are often oversubtle- it took me all of the first book to work out that both the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' called themselves the Prometheans and that the reason Marlowe was working for Queen Elizabeth in the first place was to reinforce the fragile chains of magic and poetry that connected the faerie world to ours. But I was having such a good time by then I simply didn't care.
As you would expect from a historical fantasy the period details are bang on and the liberal use of quotes from both Marlowe and Shaekspeare  made me buy a copy of Faustus for my Kindle just so I could read the whole play (which is also awesome).
The whole 'fairies in England' thing, of course, has been done before many times-most notably in Marie Brennan's Midnight Never Come, which features similar themes;parallel Faerie and human courts, with Elizabeth I as a bright mirror for a dark faery Queen, but Christopher Marlowe makes such an engaging protagonist that The Stratford Man definitely has the edge on its competitor.  
Because, you know, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare and the Devil. What more do you want?

Try this if you like: Marie Brennan, Shakespeare, historical fantasy, long books that you can really get your teeth into, dirty jokes, m/m romance.

Don't try it if: You hate Shakespeare and/or slash. 

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