The first book in the Shakespeare fantasies series where Shakespeare is one of the main characters.

Publication year: 2001
Page count: 298
Format: print, paperback
Publisher: Ace

Will Shakespeare is an unhappy man. He married the woman he loved, Nan Hathaway, and they have an infant daughter. In order to support his family and declare his independence from his parents, Will took up job as a petty schoolmaster in Wilcot where he has to walk two hours one way, every day. He’s away from his family a lot. Also, his mother Mary insists that “velvet-clad gentlemen” visit Nan while Will is away and tries to get Will to leave Nan.

Today, Will has walked back home through poring rain and finds out that his wife and daughter are missing. He panics at first but then he concludes that Nan is helping her sister who is nine months pregnant. Will decides to walk to the Hathaway house to be with Nan and Susannah. On the way there, he sees a magical castle and Nan dancing in it clothed in silks and pearls.

Prince Quicksilver of Elvenland is an unhappy man. He is the youngest son of King Oberon and Queen Titania who were killed five years ago. According to elven law, the youngest inherits. However, Quicksilver’s elder brother Sylvanus managed to steal the throne with innuendo about Quicksilver’s youth and unstable dual nature. While Quicksilver’s natural body is male, he can change into a dark haired elven woman. Gender change is typical of the lesser fae and the noble scorn Quicksilver’s ability. Also, when his parents died, Quicksilver was barely an adult he hadn’t had the time, nor inclination, to gather supporters. So, Quicksilver wear mourning black in court. He has only two allies: Pyrite, the Duke of Air Kingdoms, and his sister Ariel who is a seer.

King Sylvanus’ mortal queen has died and left him with an infant. So, Sylvanus decided to kidnap a suitable mortal nurse maid for his daughter. He was smitten with the coarse country woman and wants to now marry her.

From Ariel, Quicksilver learns that his parents were murdered and that his brother arranged it to get the throne. If anyone kills an elven ruler, the power of the hill that he commands will kill the murderer. So, Quicksilver will need someone else to do it for him… perhaps a mortal man who wants his wife back?

I expected a lighter read from Ill Met in Moonlight, along the lines of the play which inspired it. However, this is a darker story of revenge and struggle of a mortal man caught in the middle of elven scheming.

Will is young man who is trying to distance himself from his parents and prove that he is his own man. His father fears apparently illusory debt collectors since he doesn’t have debts, and has mostly stopped working on his glover’s shop. Will had helped him when he was younger but resents it now. Her mother openly disapproves of Nan who at 26 is considered an old maid and a shrew. Will has nothing but contempt for his slow-witted pupils and regrets his choice of career. Still, he’s trying the best he can. We also get a few chapters from Nan’s point-of-view.

She clearly loves Will although she also thinks that he could have gotten a much better wife than ugly Nan. She grew up in a strict Puritan household, resisting her father’s demands and lectures. From time to time she dressed in her brother’s cloths and escaped to dream and play in the woods. She’s loyal to Will and able to resist faerie glamor because of her stubborn nature.

Quicksilver had a carefree, if lonely, childhood and he regrets that now. He’s broody nature makes him a loner now, too, and he even resents his few friends. He treats Ariel horribly. However, he learns and grows a lot during the book. He’s pretty human though, even with his alien-like gender shifting.

Ariel is shy and timid elven maiden. She loves Quicksilver but he has nothing but cruel and impatient words for her. Still, she hopes that some day his cold heart will thaw.

Hoyt borrows a lot from Shakespeare: not just phrases but names of characters and fragments of dialog, too. This is apparently jarring for those who know his works well, but I liked it. Each chapter starts with a short scene description.

There are a few references to Kit Marlow as well. Apparently, he was Quicksilver’s earlier lover who went a bit mad because of the contact with the fae world. We also get to see the Hunter who is a shadowy figure who hunts elves and occasionally tempts them with great power and everlasting damnation. I think he’s a variation of the Wild Hunt.

Here, Shakespeare is a fairly normal young man and not a genius. He did learn to read and write far quicker than his brothers and has written a few poems but I don’t think he’s shown them to anyone else than Nan. I doubt that anyone shows genius if he has to work hard on a completely different field, so I was fine with that. However, near the end, the narrator (who only appears at the end and implicitly in the prologue and the scene settings) says that what Will has seen “kindle strange fires in his brain”. I was a bit disappointed with that; humans don’t need outside influence to excel at something.

Unfortunately, the ending felt a bit too convenient and rushed.

Anyway, I liked the book a lot. Will and Nan make an excellent established couple who have to endure a lot from others. Quicksilver and Ariel have a sort-of courtship romanc which I didn’t really care for.