The Cobbler’s Boy- Elizabeth Bear and Katherine Addison

Image result for cobbler's boy elizabeth bearThis is a really fun murder mystery/adventure set in 16th-century Canterbury as a 15 year old Christopher Marlowe, the future playwright, struggles to build a future beyond what his abusive father (the cobbler of the title) envisions for him. Oh, and someone’s just murdered the older scholar friend who gave him a window into a new world.

Enter Tom Watson (a real historical figure, though used fictitiously) who is also trying to solve the murder. Unfortunately, this puts both Kit and Watson in grave danger. Meanwhile, Kit is experiencing a secret first love with another boy and negotiating his relationships with his mother and younger sisters, all excellently characterized. Throw in a mysterious Greek book, a couple of murder attempts, and an archbishop, and you have a great mystery/coming of age tale.

This features the same historical main character as Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age books Ink and Steel and others, but stands alone and is straight-up historical fiction rather than historical fantasy as those are. Still, if you’d like more of Marlowe’s fictional adventures after this, check those out!

Spoilery quibbles below:

My two quibbles with this book–one, the religious conflicts that drive the murder plot could have been more fleshed out, and two, toward the end Kit does something SO STUPID-failing to ask for help from someone who’s shown himself helpful when he’s in over his head-that I almost couldn’t believe it. This is explained as a result of his father’s abuse, but I wish that decision and its motives had been more fleshed out as well…but this is an excellent read

Tamburlaine, Part One- Christopher Marlowe

This is unusual for a Marlowe play in that the anti-hero doesn’t get his comeuppance (and won’t in the sequel, either). Unfortunately, I put off writing this post until some time after I’d read it, so I’ve largely forgotten what I wanted to say! Therefore, bullet points.

-Zenocrate is not a good person. She regrets the deaths of Bajazeth and his wife, but only after she helped torment them to suicide. She’s a pretty good partner for Tamburlaine– a little softer, but not going to have serious moral qualms.

-The language, oh my God the language. It’s lovely, and consistently so. Here’s a particular favorite bit:

Nature that framed us of four elements,
Warring within our breast for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world
And measure every wandering planet’s course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Wills us to wear ourselves and never rest
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.
It’s both beautiful and illustrative of Tamburlaine’s character– all that striving focused on something ultimately a bit anticlimactic and unworthy.
-The symbolism of the black tent is terrifying. Read it and you’ll know what I mean. Also the contrast of Tamburlaine’s speech about beauty while having the virgins slaughtered.
-I was surprised by how much dignity Tamburlaine’s incompetent enemies were allowed.