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Ill Met By Moonlight
Sarah A. Hoyt
Ace Books, 278 pages

Ill Met By Moonlight
Sarah A. Hoyt
Sarah A. 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. Ill Met by Moonlight is her first novel.

Sarah A. Hoyt Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

A lovely mainstream-style cover wraps this debut fantasy by Sarah A. Hoyt, which posits that the magical world of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream was more than just the product of a fertile imagination.

Nineteen-year-old petty schoolmaster Will Shakespeare arrives home one evening to find his wife Nan and infant daughter Susannah missing. Will tells himself that Nan has simply been called away to help her pregnant sister-in-law; but this logical explanation doesn't quiet the strange foreboding he feels. Setting off to look for Nan, he passes through the wilds of the Forest of Arden, where he stumbles upon a miraculous shining palace with crystal walls, in a place where no palace has ever been before. Inside are lords and ladies in exquisite clothing... and Nan, standing before the throne of the king.

Nan, it turns out, has been kidnapped by the elven King Sylvanus to care for his half-human baby daughter, and to become his wife. Will can't imagine how he'll get her back -- until he's befriended by Quicksilver, Sylvanus' shapeshifter brother, who promises to assist. But Quicksilver has his own agenda, for he suspects Sylvanus of having planned the murder of their parents, Titania and Oberon, in order to cheat him of his royal inheritance. In helping Will, Quicksilver sees a way to engineer Sylvanus' downfall. But things are soon complicated by feuds, betrayals, banishments, unrequited love, and Quicksilver's own attraction to Will -- for Quicksilver can shift between male and female forms, and Will appeals powerfully to his feminine side.

Hoyt both uses and departs from accepted historical theory about this ill-documented early period of Shakespeare's life. The text is woven with Shakespearean references -- a brooding prince obsessed with parental murder, complicated doings in the Forest of Arden, a Dark Lady, gender masquerades, a shrew (who isn't tamed), and of course the wondrous world of elves and fairies portrayed in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Some of these references are heavy-handed -- for instance, it's not enough that Quicksilver dresses all in black and dwells lengthily and gloomily on his many dissatisfactions; he must also think in phrases from Hamlet's soliloquies. But others are more clever, such as Hoyt's transposition, when Will finally reunites with Nan, of the summoning scene that concludes The Taming of the Shrew.

The book is overwritten, though, and Hoyt's prose skills aren't up to the style to which she aspires -- formal and vaguely Elizabethan, with dialogue meant to echo the cadences of Shakespearean blank verse. The text is littered with awkward phrases ("A young man of nineteen, with overlong dark locks that curled on the collar of his cheap russet wool suit, Will felt as if he were about to walk into a trap"), overwrought similes ("Now he came back home with the sun turned to bleeding glory in the west and night closing in on all sides, like creditors surrounding a penniless debtor"), confusing dialogue ("If I loved that boy I would not love him, and not loving him I love him that he might hate my enemy"), and unintentional clunkers ("He would not ruin Will's life more than he already had," Quicksilver thinks remorsefully at one point. "Enough, enough already." Oy.). I don't usually bother to criticize prose style in fantasy novels, where workmanlike is often as much as one can hope for. But in a book about Shakespeare, where the writing so clearly tries to suggest Shakespearean rhythms, these flaws are particularly glaring.

Most disappointing, perhaps, is that for all the references to the plays and sonnets, there's little sense of William Shakespeare, the future Bard of Avon. In this I'm reminded of another novel -- Shadows Bend, also published by Ace -- that attempted to place a writer in the world of his fiction, and similarly failed to convey a sense of the writer as creator of that world. Will is innocent, unambitious, and rather whiny, pining sadly for Nan and his baby daughter but not really sure what to do about it -- or anything else for that matter. We're told several times about his quick mind, but there's little quickness (or poetry) in his moony ruminations, and his dithering ultimately becomes irritating. With a Will like this, one is tempted to believe the Christopher Marlowe theory of Shakespearean authorship. The alternative suggested at the end of the book -- that Shakespeare wouldn't have become a poet at all but for his elven encounter -- isn't satisfying.

Two sequels are planned. The next, All Night Awake, will appear in 2002.

Copyright © 2002 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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