I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
When he's caught out by one ill-advised seduction too many, young William Shakespeare flees Stratford to seek his fortune. Cast adrift in London, Will falls in with a band of players - but greater men have their eye on this talented young wordsmith.
England's very survival hangs in the balance, and Will finds himself dispatched to Venice on a crucial embassy. Dazzled by the city's masques - and its beauties - Will little realises the peril in which he finds himself. Catholic assassins would stop at nothing to end his mission on the point of their sharpened knives, and lurking in the shadows is a killer as clever as he is cruel.
***2018 Summer of Spies***
William Shakespeare as a character was the hook that persuaded me to pick up this historical espionage novel, but really virtually any well-known man from the period could have substituted successfully in the role. I kind of turned off the “Shakespeare detector” in my brain in order to enjoy the novel as much as I did.
Picture Shakespeare as kind of an Elizabethan James Bond, learning his way around Venice and Venetians and trying to fulfill the mission that he inherits from the assassinated nobleman who recruited him to travel to Italy. The plot was decent—twisty enough to be interesting, but with a few thin spots. For example, I think two actors from a ragged company would be hard pressed to impersonate the English ambassador and his aide. But once you’ve allowed yourself to accept those unlikely situations, the novel is simply fun.
Brandreth seeded a lot of phrases throughout the novel that would presage some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and sonnets. Most of the time, I found them amusing, but occasionally they grated on me a bit. The author is an actor and a specialist in Shakespearean language and history, so his choice of Shakespeare as character makes sense. I also found the language used in the writing to be appropriate—not too obviously 21st century, for example.
I certainly liked this tale well enough to read Brandreth’s sequel, The Assassin of Verona.