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Ink and Steel (The Stratford Man) [Paperback]

Elizabeth Bear
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: 14.26 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Product details

  • Paperback: 427 pages
  • Publisher: Roc (1 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451462092
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451462091
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 436,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh, my! What a story! 19 Aug 2008
Format:Paperback
The main characters in this amazing book (Part II is 'Hell and Earth') are William Shakespeare and Christopher (Kit) Marlowe. Marlowe is dead, to begin with. The action moves between the England of an ageing Queen Elizabeth and the court of the Queen of the Sidhe in Faerie. This is not the Faerie of the Flower Fairies, or even Tolkienian Elves: the Sidhe are beautiful but they are not the least human. They are cruel. Marlowe now lives in Faerie: he can briefly visit his friends in England, but if he stays away too long he will die.

The politics of both courts drives the plot (which is fascinating), but what struck me most is the abiding friendship between Will and Kit: I could understand that the prospect for Kit of gradually losing everyone he has ever loved is terrible. Will, too, suffers because his life has become involved with Faerie.

I know these are books I will re-read again and again, and find something new each time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, lyrical story of Shakespeare and Faerie 14 April 2009
By Mark Shackelford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ms. Bear's prose is utterly beautiful and suits this Faerie story perfectly. But - these are NOT the fairies of fairy tales, these are the strong-minded, wilful, and (when necessary) vicious, inhabitants of a parallel universe, where time flows at a different rate, but whose borders with our own (or in this case, Elizabethan) world are blurred.

The adventures of Christopher (Kit) Marlowe (tragically, but not permanently, dead), along with a certain Mr. Shakespeare, and a cast of dubious supporting characters, faeries, goblins, lunatics, queens (real and faerie), lords, ladies and assorted low-life, are an absolute treat.

You could read the books just for the elegant poetic prose, which envelops you and the story with a style that is perfect - and then, almost as a bonus, you have this well plotted, intriguing, and surprising tale.

Highly recommended for anyone who has enjoyed Mary Gentle's alternate worlds of Ash, or the harder works of Ursula Le Guin, as well as the wonderful world of Neal Stephenson's baroque trilogy.
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Format:Kindle Edition
I bought this book primarily because it featured playwright Christopher (Kit) Marlowe (a really interesting historical character worth Googling even if you have no interest in his writings). I also love fantasy so I reckoned I'd take a chance with an unknown author.

The story takes place in the late 1500s of our (real) world, and at the court of Queen Mabd in the land of Faerie. The author takes some known facts about Christopher Marlowe (that he was a writer, a homosexual, a spy for Queen Elizabeth I, and was killed in a bar brawl in 1593) and cleverly weaves these elements into her story with a fantastical twist on them.

The basic premise of the story is that our world and the land of Faerie are linked, and when one is strong, so is the other. There are factions trying to undermine Queen Elizabeth and Kit is involved with a group known as the Prometheus Club, who are trying to protect their queen and country. When Kit is supposedly killed, William Shakespeare takes his place in the group, using stories and plays as a method of keeping the enemy's black magic at bay.

The story moves between the real world and Faerie with much plotting, scheming and betrayals thrown in. Ms Bear writes with a gorgeous atmospheric prose, which gives the novel a historical feel. The real charm of the book, however, lies in the author's portrayals of Kit and Will, and their relationship. Kit is such a beautifully drawn character, vulnerable and damaged. Will is torn between his loves and his obligations. There is something of an erotic theme running through the novel, though it's never explicit. Indeed, one scene where two protagonists kiss contains more sexual tension than most of the current urban fantasy authors could manage in their entire careers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mesmerizing and wholly believable Shakespeare 18 Aug 2008
By Emily Horner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age books have this much in common: heartbreaking, intense, complicated personal relationships, and politics that go way over my head. My solution is to read for the personal relationships and shrug off the politics, though that won't work for everybody.

This book focuses on Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, and on the Elizabethan reign, which is being subtly supported both by the magic in plays and verse and by the faerie realm. Marlowe, in the world of faerie, is drawn into a tangle of politics and relationships; Shakespeare, meanwhile, is called upon to support Elizabeth's reign with his plays and in other ways.

The book's great strength is in how Marlowe and Shakespeare feel completely like real people, complex and multi-dimensional and sympathetic but flawed. I have the urge to give Marlowe a hug and some hot chocolate, not that it would help! Bear also knows how to write sex scenes that are intimate and revealing but not mechanical, which sex scenes in books hardly ever are, and this is perhaps her best book yet in that regard.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, lyrical story of Shakespeare and Faerie 15 April 2009
By Mark Shackelford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ms. Bear's prose is utterly beautiful and suits this Faerie story perfectly. But - these are NOT the fairies of fairy tales, these are the strong-minded, wilful, and (when necessary) vicious, inhabitants of a parallel universe, where time flows at a different rate, but whose borders with our own (or in this case, Elizabethan) world are blurred.

The adventures of Christopher (Kit) Marlowe (tragically, but not permanently, dead), along with a certain Mr. Shakespeare, and a cast of dubious supporting characters, faeries, goblins, lunatics, queens (real and faerie), lords, ladies and assorted low-life, are an absolute treat.

You could read the books just for the elegant poetic prose, which envelops you and the story with a style that is perfect - and then, almost as a bonus, you have this well plotted, intriguing, and surprising tale.

Highly recommended for anyone who has enjoyed Mary Gentle's alternate worlds of Ash, or the harder works of Ursula Le Guin, as well as the wonderful world of Neal Stephenson's baroque trilogy.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning 18 Aug 2008
By Stephanie Leary - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While Ink and Steel is part of the Promethean Age series, it's a great place to begin. I found it more accessible than either Blood and Iron or Whiskey and Water, the two earlier books in the series set in modern times.

The Prometheans are magicians, politicians, and spies working to influence the course of England's history. Christopher Marlowe -- aka Kit Marley -- writes magic-infused plays under the direction of Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster. However, the Prometheans are splintering into factions, and one of them has decided that Kit is a liability.

Kit's ignominious death leaves the Prometheans without their playwright. The young actor Richard Burbage suggests they recruit Kit's friend and roommate, Will Shakespeare.

Meanwhile, Kit awakens in Faerie under the care of Morgan le Fey and learns that his service is to be transferred from Elizabeth to her sister queen, the Mebd. He will live forever in the Faerie court, able to return to the iron world for only a few days at a time. And return he must, because Will is in way, way over his head. Together, Will and Kit are going to have to navigate the undercurrents of both queens' courts to learn who's working to thwart the Prometheans from within -- who is, in other words, trying to bring down Elizabeth, and by extension the Mebd.

English lit geeks: get thee to the bookstore! You are in for a rare treat. Bear lovingly brings Elizabeth's court to life, weaving fact and fiction into a wide-flung net of Promethean conspiracies: plagues, murders, illicit affairs, secret letters written in lemon juice and passed through Faerie mirrors. The cast includes not just Marlowe and Shakespeare but Jonson, Spenser, Nashe, Dekker, and half a dozen lesser known poets and playwrights; the entire Shakespeare family, Burbage and his players; Walter Raleigh, Robert Devereaux, and Edward de Vere; and Elizabeth herself. As in the lovely film Shakespeare in Love, we get to see these luminaries as real people, tramping through London's mud, suffering from fevers, battling stage fright.

There are so many things here to love. I laughed myself silly over the sly jokes and innuendo in the letters Will and Kit write one another, and the hilariously snarky dialogue between them and their fellow poets. Kit's posthumous misadventures in London are great fun, as are Will's attempts at skullduggery. But the real fun begins when Kit brings Will to Faerie.

Don't forget to pick up Hell and Earth as well, since these two books are really one novel that had to be divided due to its length. Despite that, the story ended far too soon. I wanted to remain in its world even longer, and had to content myself with flipping back to page one and starting again.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elizabeth Bear writes half of a Shakespeare Play in prose 24 Dec 2010
By Jvstin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In her diptych, Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water, Elizabeth Bear shows us the end of the story of the Promethean Age, when Faerie has been fighting a long war against technology, against Hell, and against those magicians, the Prometheans, who would still see it bound.

In the second volume of that series, when Christopher Marlowe, part of Lucifer's household, appears, he blazes across the page in such a way that I knew, then, that Bear had to write more of his story, and how he had gotten to be in Lucifer's household in the first place.

In Ink and Steel, the first of another diptych, Elizabeth Bear takes us back to the days when Christopher Marlowe is still alive (although not for long), and just as importantly, the early days of the career of one William Shakespeare, whose poetry and pose is as potent an armament as any Elf-knight's sword. For such poetry and pose are strong magic, magic that can be used for good, or for ill...

Shakespeare and his world is a popular choice for fantasy and SF authors. Ruled Britannia has him writing plays for a Spanish-installed Monarch. Sarah Hoyt's trilogy has Shakeapeare tangle with the land of Faerie. Neil Gaiman had Shakespeare meet one of the Endless. Poul Anderson's Midsummer's Tempest is a fine novel where Shakespeare's plays are fact. Bear is in good company here.

With chapters arranged like acts and scenes of a play, with florid, lush descriptions and prose, and the subject matter of Shakespeare and Elizabethan England and Elizabethan Faerie, the book, at least this half, reads and feels like a prose version of one of William Shakespeare's plays. Betrayals, forbidden and denied love, politics, unusual landscapes, engaging and multisided characters convince me that these are books that Bear not only enjoyed writing, but in a sense was born to write. This book (and I am sure, the second half, Hell and Earth) are the kind of books that an author has in mind when she decides to become a writer.

I think, too, that Bear hits it out of the park. I personally know that Elizabethan England is something that Bear knows a fair amount about, and that knowledge flows out onto the page. From the minutae of the changes in the courtiers and servants to Queen Elizabeth, all the way down to what a trip through the streets of London feels like, that knowledge is not dumped on the page, but, rather, flows into that previously mentioned lush text. And then there is Faerie, and even a trip into Hell. Bear is not afraid to make things happen and deliver on the page, consistently, for the reader.

This IS the first novel of two, and so the story does not end here, which may frustrate some readers. I suspect others may object to some characterizations of Shakespeare and Marlowe, but one might consider that Bear almost certainly knows more about the subject than me or you.

I look forward to finishing the Statford Man sequence in Hell and Earth and see just how Bear finishes off the story.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Reality 18 Aug 2008
By Stephen T. Wishnevsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Bear is the best writer in SF&F, and regardless of what the litr'y Establishment thinks, Speculative Fiction is the most demanding of all genres.
No Literary writer, one suspects, would have the nerve, the chops or the soul to write a book that is a love story between Marlow and Shakespeare, much less throw Morgan le Fey and her son into the brew, but that is just one of the major themes Bear mixes into this wonderful book. Wonderful means "full of wonders."

But to me, the best part is the reality, effortlessly created (or so it seems) that can bring Will's wife Annie to life as a breathing character whose motivations and obligations ring true to life. All the other characters are equally vivid and real.

And the speech in the mouths of these people also is fluid and true and emotive. Mark Twain studied for years to recreate Elizabethean dialogue. For my money, Bear does it better.

Pretty good company, don't you know.

And the real reason that the Establishment ignores SF&F? They probably can't stand the comparison. Bear and her peers are creating a Golden Age of literature.
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