First in a fantasy alternate history series.


Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 508
Publisher: Angry Robot

This book is set in an alternate Elizabethan England. In this world, Queen Elizabeth I married Robert Dudley and they had two sons, Robert and Arthur. However, the prince consort has died and the queen has secluded herself in morning. She’s already in her sixties so many people are expecting prince Robert to become the king soon. The most obvious fantasy element are the skraylings, a non-human species from the American continent. By the time of this book, some of them already live in London and elsewhere in Europe and humans loathe them because the skraylings refuse to be converted into Christianity. But some humans get along just fine with them, mostly for business purposes. England has allied with the skraylings, mostly that Spain would not be able to form a strong alliance with them.

Maliverny Catlyn is a down on his luck swordsman. He has few friends but some of his acquaintances might be able to give him some work. However, before he can ask around, he’s dragged before the Lieutenant of the Tower. Mal fears the worst but he’s offered a job as the bodyguard of the first skrayling ambassador to England. Mal has some unhappy history with them and he doesn’t want to work with them. But Sir James Leland insists that the skrayling ambassador specifically asked for Mal so he doesn’t really have a choice. However, he’s happy to get enough money to pay for his brother’s care so he takes the job.

Ned Faulkner is Mal’s good (and only) friend. He does copying jobs for the local theatre groups. He’s also very attracted to Mal, who doesn’t return his feelings, and loves a young male actor, Gabriel Parrish. When Mal takes the job, two mysterious men start to threaten Ned.

Coby is a young girl masquerading as a man. The rest of her family died after they fled a war from Netherlands. Cody doesn’t want to be a prostitute so she dresses as a boy and has a job as a tireman for the theatre company Suffolk’s Men. She doesn’t want to be an actor at all and is happy mending the costumes and running errands for their master Naismith. She knows the skrayling trade language and teaches Mal how to speak it. However, she’s blackmailed into spying on Mal.

They all come entangled with a plot involving the skraylings. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to know much about the skraylings.

As far as I can tell, the period details are correct. Mal’s mother was a Frenchwoman so some people hold that against him. Also, Mal’s a Catholic so he has to live in fear that someone will expose him to the Protestant authorities. Strangely enough, I liked Coby but felt that she was a victim to a few tropes: she’s young enough not to have periods yet and she falls in lust with Mal almost at first glance. She’s also very afraid that people will find out that she’s a girl, even though she’s been working for the troupe for five years already.

I really liked the book and the characters, though.

Oh and both Will Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe are mentioned in the book but neither appears.

This is one of my TBR reads. I bought this very nice looking paperback on a whim.

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