Ill Met By Moonlight
by Sarah A. Hoyt
Young Will Shakespeare has a problem. The poor schoolmaster, barely out of his teens, comes home to find his young bride Nan gone and his baby daughter replaced in her crib by a wooden “stock.”
The gossip is running rampant about his faithless wife, but the truth is even worse: lured into the land of the Fey, Nan is an unwilling nursemaid to the Faery King’s orphaned babe, and evidently his next choice for the royal bed.
So lays the action for this charming historical fantasy novel, a tantalizing speculation on the source of the Bard’s plays, particularly A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the identity of the mysterious Dark Lady of his sonnets. Sarah Hoyt’s novel puts the young playwright in the center of Faery Land’s civil war, a war of succession precipitated by the murder of King Oberon and Queen Titania.
Much like the minor characters in his own dramas, young Will is a pawn of fate, manipulated by the scheming, shape-shifting, deposed prince, Quicksilver, into an instrument of revenge. But unlike the hilarious interaction between humans and the Fey in the famous play, here the lofty machinations of the Faery Court have been corrupted, and must be set right by human intervention.
Hoyt’s exhaustive research on the Elizabethan period shows in her true to life details in the Shakespeares’ domestic life. Likewise traditional Faery lore is communicated in her depictions of life in the Faery court. Much has been argued about how much “magic” Shakespeare knew. Certainly he used mythological and fantastical themes in his work. And fairy tales were of course very common; hence Midsummer’s continued popularity. But had Shakespeare picked up actual fairy lore in the superstitions of his grandmothers?
Perhaps he learned High Magics later, when his renown put him in contact with wealthy aristocrats, fond of Masonic ceremony and Hellfire clubs? This is all conjecture, but Hoyt’s fantasy of Will as a foolish mortal caught in the crossfire of the “Hill People” and learning the Dark Arts in self-defense is certainly compelling.
There is always a risk in writing fictionalized accounts of such a renowned and revered storyteller as Shakespeare. His abilities and stature as a writer cast a long shadow that no subsequent writer has been able to touch. But Hoyt has woven a passionate and intriguing tale about the source of one of the English language’s most magical works.
RATING: 3 ½ Broomsticks
» Originally appeared in newWitch #02
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