A novella for Elizabethan/Jacobean drama nerds. The language is deliberately difficult, and in the second half I was frequently unsure what exactly was happening, and the ending was unsatisfying, but this was still a fascinating read. Lots of Shakespeare, and a surprising number of Marlowe references (“…his Lucan still unfinished, plays unthought of. Overtaken: and would never now be thirty. Zeno’s poet. An were I that witch of Thessaly, I’d conjure Kit and say, translate me.”). Even before I read the acknowledgements, the influence of Sonya Taaffe (author of the marvelous poem “Lucan in Averno”) was clear. Everything is better with Pharsalia references.
But this is the Ben Jonson show, as Ben goes up against the Earl of Oxford, with a stopover in Venice, in a fight that appeals to the grieving father in him. The reason the ending bugged me is that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the protagonist, but his storyline and character arc are wrapped up nonetheless.
The story is chock-full of period allusions, in-jokes, and references (for example, the secondary antagonist named Nightborn is pretty clearly a twist on Edward II’s Lightborn). It’s also full of wordplay, and replicating Elizabethan wordplay is certainly no easy task. Those aspects, as well as Ben Jonson as a fully realized point-of-view character, make it well worth the price of admission for fans of Renaissance drama.