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Any Man So Daring

Sarah Hoyt

Ace /Penguin Putnam

US Hardback

ISBN: 0 441 01092 X

328 Pages; $23.95

Date Reviewed: 6th November 2003

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2003



Fantasy, General Fiction, Horror

There is a strong current taste for historical fiction, be it fantasy, romantic or otherwise. Sarah Hoyt's latest novel, the last in the trilogy following Ill Met by Moonlight and All Night Awake, has elements of all of these. All three are based on aspects of Shakespeare's life and work, suggesting that he was inspired by magical events he had seen or experienced in Fairyland. This novel deals with a Shakespeare haunted by the twin specters of approaching middle age and his old rival, Christopher Marlowe, supposedly killed in a tavern fight three years previously, but who in fact gave up his life fighting battles in Fairyland, and thus saved the world from the fate of being taken over by the dark side of magic.

Those who consider Shakespeare's writing to be supernaturally good may find that they are right in their assumptions. As the novel opens, Will Shakespeare sits at his desk writing, realizing with shame that the words coming from his pen are those of the ghostly Kit Marlowe, denied a chance to continue his fame and fortune by his early death. However, Will is shortly precipitated back into the world of the faeries, where the battles of the previous novels still rage, in order to rescue his son Hamnet, who has been kidnapped by the elfen Miranda for nefarious purposes of her own. Here he battles not just for his son, but also for his own sanity and livelihood as he endeavours to establish his own identity free from the sad murdered ghost of Kit. Along the way he meets Miranda and Caliban, who inspire in him a story that does not require the posthumous help of Marlowe, and most aspects of the trilogy are rounded off satisfactorily. Like many conclusions to trilogies, it deals with the laying to rest of the ghosts of the past, and giving hope for the future, as yet unwritten.

As ever, the premise of the novel is interesting, considering aspects of Shakespeare's life and character as well as his work which novels less supernatural might not have the tools to pinpoint. In particular she addresses the claims that Shakespeare drew on Marlowe's work for inspiration, suggesting that the words were fed to him through the medium of Marlowe's ghost. Serious issues of plagiarism have been considered by academics for years, and although to a certain extent Hoyt bases these on fact, comparing The Merchant of Venice with The Jew of Malta and Titus Andronicus with Tamburlaine the Great, it seems to me that she makes these claims very lightly and without taking into account that both playwrights adapted well-known stories to suit the issues of the day.

However, I have long thought that Shakespeare studies have become far too serious a subject for a man of wit as well as melancholy such as Shakespeare; and Marlowe, for many, has been obscured by the mists of academia, despite being the most highly regarded playwright of his time. The gravitas that is integral part of the modern face of Shakespeare, gazing sternly from school textbooks, is in no way a complete representation of a lively and talented man. Hoyt in many ways revives the brawling young men of Shakespeare in Love, quick to fight and fall in love, but with added melancholy, particularly in this latest novel.

There are little ironies which make the text particularly interesting, such as Miranda's belief that tales are always true and writers never lie, which causes some confusion for her as she thus believes the beautiful to be good and the ugly villainous. The veracity of the writer is something that Shakespeare himself used to toy with in some of his sonnets. The text is also multi-layered with references to and sometimes phrases from the plays, which draw on understood notions and act as a kind of shorthand from writer to reader, such as the king of Fairyland, Quicksilver, speaking to Will with Romeo's words to Mercutio before he tries to kill him.

I think perhaps my only quarrel with the book is that I find myself not convinced by the characters, which may have something to do with the language used throughout the novel. An excess of archaic adjectives is not always effective, dramatic or Shakespearean; it is simply an excess of adjectives. Nonetheless, if you have read the other two books of this trilogy it is well worth reading this one, and it is refreshing to see such an unusual approach to Shakespeare.