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All Night Awake
Sarah A. Hoyt
Ace Books, 311 pages

All Night Awake
Sarah A. Hoyt
Sarah Hoyt was born in Porto, Portugal. She now lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons, and four cats. She holds an M.A. in English and Literature and has pursued Shakespearean studies as a hobby for over twenty-five years. Her short stories have appeared in various magazines, among them Weird Tales and Absolute Magnitude.

Sarah A. Hoyt Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Ill Met By Moonlight

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

William Shakespeare was an Elizabethan playwright who most people think wrote Hamlet and A Midsummer's Night Dream, among others, for the entertainment of both the Crown and the masses. For a variety of reasons, not all of which relate to the genius of the work itself (see Gary Taylor's Reinventing Shakespeare for more on the politics of "Shakesperia"), he is widely regarded as one of the major deities of English Literature and Western Civilization. Which is to state something just about everybody all ready knows.

But who he actually was, well, ah, there's the rub. Much of what is thought to be known about Shakespeare's life is based largely on conjecture and inference. There are even those who contend that Will Shakespeare -- whoever he may have been -- was really just a convenient front for another author, someone such as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, whose royal status required the political expedient of pseudonymous anonymity.

None of which much matters to enjoy the plays. But it has created a huge cottage industry of scholarship concerning the life and times of Shakespeare -- whoever he was -- and what events, mundane or profound, that may have actually influenced his creativity. Scholars have to base their assumptions on what they can piece together from contemporaneous historical records as well as possible clues in the plays themselves that may reflect the author's experiences. Fictional portrayals postulate about such debatable matters as the identity of the Dark Lady in Shakespeare's sonnets as well as the author's sexual orientation. These historical novels include The Late Mr. Shakespeare by Robert Nye, The Players by Stephanine Cowell and, most recently, Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove, an alternate history of a Shakespeare in an England conquered by Spain. Erica Jong introduced the fantasy element of time travel in Serenissima in which her modern Jewish protagonist is transported to 16th century Venice to become Shakespeare's lover. More recently, in the short story, "The Undiscovered," William Sanders extrapolates an encounter between Will and North America Indians. All of which adds drama to a dramatist who seems to have lived a fairly mundane life. (One of the reasons, by the way, some argue that a mere son of a glover could not be the author of the plays attributed to him.)

This serves the central conceit of Sarah A. Hoyt's debut novel, Ill Met by Moonlight, and its first sequel, All Night Awake which provide fanciful explanations of how a man of humble origins could have gained such poetic insight.

In the first book, it was direct experience with the land of the faerie. When we first met young Will, he's a young husband and school teacher. Complications ensue when his wife and newborn daughter are kidnapped by the evil King of faerie. The King's sibling -- whose dual aspect of both the male Quicksilver and the female Lady Silver hints at both the identify of the Dark Lady as well as Shakespeare's supposed bisexuality -- helps Shakespeare rescue his family and maintain equilibrium between human and magical worlds.

In the latest installment, the featured player is Christopher Marlowe and, in Hoyt's retelling, the actual source of Shakespeare's genius. Will is now approaching middle-age (29 in Elizabethan reckoning!) but is still the drudge with burgher values (as his real counterpart also seems to have been), struggling to make a name for himself as a playwright in London, without much luck, perhaps in large part due to his lack of talent. A street encounter with the famous Marlowe sets forth a series of machinations that, while introducing Shakespeare to much needed patronage, is nonetheless intended to protect Marlowe from the gallows by casting suspicion upon Shakespeare as a plotter against the Queen.

Meanwhile in faerie land, Quicksilver has succeeded to the throne as King, but he commits a misstep that results in the release from bondage of his evil brother. The freed Sylvanus seeks a human host to carry out his revenge and wreak havoc in the metaphysical balance of existence between the human and the magical. The best host is a human who has had conscious contact with the faerie. Shakespeare and Marlowe are excellent candidates, having both been past lovers of the Lady Silver (and, in Marlowe's case Quicksilver, as well). Quicksilver vainly sets out to save them.

Throughout the book, Marlowe mouths famous Shakespearean lines with a frequency that begins to wear a bit thin. What's at first puzzling is that these utterances take place while the character of Will Shakespeare is off-stage, thus creating the question of how Shakespeare is supposed to have come to acquire these famous adages from Marlowe. This is cleared up in a plot resolution that is perhaps a bit contrived, even for a fantasy.

Another creaky part of the plot is that while Quicksilver is ostensibly embarked upon a single-handed rescue mission, he seems to spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for something to happen, usually in the lodgings of either Marlowe or Shakespeare, even before he is laid low by Sylvannus's treachery.

It is a bit unfair, perhaps, to quibble about plot line logic. After all, it never bothered the ostensible subject of this effort. One way Shakespeare got away with this is with his great characters. And Hoyt has a great character here with Christopher Marlowe, who really is the centerpiece of the novel. It all makes for great fun to try to connect the dots to what is historically known to what is fabricated. One such fabrication key to the plot is that of Marlowe's illegitimate son, which the possible homosexual poet was unlikely to have sired.

One consumer warning: I had read Ill Met by Moonlight aloud to my daughter when she was around ten. Other than making a few mild sex scenes a bit milder, it provided a perfectly delightful bedtime story. Even for the kid who hasn't already been steeped in Shakesperia, it has got fairies and forces of evil and all the other requisites for a rousing good tale. I wouldn't recommend doing this with All Night Awake, however, as it has a horrific element that, notwithstanding the all's well that end's well denouement, might be upsetting to young children. (And, yes, I know, the Brothers Grimm are pretty horrific and I hate the bastardized Disneyfied versions as well; that said, the audience for the original Grimm fairy tales inhabited a quite different reality than today's middle-class youngster.)

The final curtain call still awaits. Hoyt promises yet another variation on the theme of how someone of Shakespeare's background have written the great plays associated with his name in Any Man So Daring, due in 2003. She notes that, "As unable to explain Shakespeare's genius as all others before me, I can do no more than advance all the same theories others have advanced and, by advancing them all preempt them all."

Which should make for an interesting encore.

Copyright © 2003 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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