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A Tip for the Hangman

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Christopher Marlowe, a brilliant aspiring playwright, is pulled into the duplicitous world of international espionage on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. A many-layered historical thriller combining state secrets, intrigue, and romance. England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe's last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, who has come with a Christopher Marlowe, a brilliant aspiring playwright, is pulled into the duplicitous world of international espionage on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. A many-layered historical thriller combining state secrets, intrigue, and romance. England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe's last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, who has come with an unorthodox career opportunity. Her Majesty's spies are in need of new recruits, and Kit's flexible moral compass has drawn their attention. Kit, a scholarship student without money or prospects, accepts the offer, and after his training the game is on. Kit is dispatched to the chilly manor where Mary, Queen of Scots is under house arrest, to act as a servant in her household and keep his ear to the ground for a Catholic plot to put Mary on the throne. While observing Mary, Kit learns more than he bargained for. The ripple effects of his service to the Crown are far-reaching and leave Kit a changed man. But there are benefits as well. The salary he earns through his spywork allows him to mount his first play, and over the following years, he becomes the toast of London's raucous theatre scene. But when Kit finds himself reluctantly drawn back into the uncertain world of espionage, conspiracy, and high treason, he realizes everything he's worked so hard to attain--including the trust of the man he loves--could vanish before his very eyes. Pairing modern language with period detail, Allison Epstein brings Elizabeth's privy council, Marlowe's lovable theatre troupe, and the squalor of sixteenth-century London to vivid, teeming life as Kit wends his way behind the scenes of some of Tudor history's most memorable moments. At the center of the action is Kit himself--an irrepressible, irreverent force of nature. Thrillingly written, full of poetry and danger, A Tip for the Hangman brings an unforgettable protagonist to new life, and makes a centuries-old story feel utterly contemporary.


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Christopher Marlowe, a brilliant aspiring playwright, is pulled into the duplicitous world of international espionage on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. A many-layered historical thriller combining state secrets, intrigue, and romance. England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe's last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, who has come with a Christopher Marlowe, a brilliant aspiring playwright, is pulled into the duplicitous world of international espionage on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. A many-layered historical thriller combining state secrets, intrigue, and romance. England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe's last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, who has come with an unorthodox career opportunity. Her Majesty's spies are in need of new recruits, and Kit's flexible moral compass has drawn their attention. Kit, a scholarship student without money or prospects, accepts the offer, and after his training the game is on. Kit is dispatched to the chilly manor where Mary, Queen of Scots is under house arrest, to act as a servant in her household and keep his ear to the ground for a Catholic plot to put Mary on the throne. While observing Mary, Kit learns more than he bargained for. The ripple effects of his service to the Crown are far-reaching and leave Kit a changed man. But there are benefits as well. The salary he earns through his spywork allows him to mount his first play, and over the following years, he becomes the toast of London's raucous theatre scene. But when Kit finds himself reluctantly drawn back into the uncertain world of espionage, conspiracy, and high treason, he realizes everything he's worked so hard to attain--including the trust of the man he loves--could vanish before his very eyes. Pairing modern language with period detail, Allison Epstein brings Elizabeth's privy council, Marlowe's lovable theatre troupe, and the squalor of sixteenth-century London to vivid, teeming life as Kit wends his way behind the scenes of some of Tudor history's most memorable moments. At the center of the action is Kit himself--an irrepressible, irreverent force of nature. Thrillingly written, full of poetry and danger, A Tip for the Hangman brings an unforgettable protagonist to new life, and makes a centuries-old story feel utterly contemporary.

30 review for A Tip for the Hangman

  1. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    I mean, I like it a lot!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd)

    "A Shakespeare in Love–style spy thriller for people who wish WOLF HALL had more theater afterparties, queer love, and backstabbing grad students." -Via author's twitter well HELLO I would like one heaping pile of this book please "A Shakespeare in Love–style spy thriller for people who wish WOLF HALL had more theater afterparties, queer love, and backstabbing grad students." -Via author's twitter well HELLO I would like one heaping pile of this book please

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa Palombo

    I was lucky enough to get an early copy of this book to read for a blurb, and let me tell you, you all are in for an absolute treat when this book is released next year. The characters are unforgettable, the plot suspenseful, and the writing gorgeous. Below is my blurb! "Debut author Allison Epstein delivers an absolute tour de force in A TIP FOR THE HANGMAN. This masterfully researched, beautifully written novel takes the reader inside the spy networks, taverns, theatres, and halls of power of T I was lucky enough to get an early copy of this book to read for a blurb, and let me tell you, you all are in for an absolute treat when this book is released next year. The characters are unforgettable, the plot suspenseful, and the writing gorgeous. Below is my blurb! "Debut author Allison Epstein delivers an absolute tour de force in A TIP FOR THE HANGMAN. This masterfully researched, beautifully written novel takes the reader inside the spy networks, taverns, theatres, and halls of power of Tudor England, with the irreverent Christoper Marlowe as our guide. Epstein is a talent to watch, and A TIP FOR THE HANGMAN is not to be missed!"

  4. 4 out of 5

    Colby

    Anyone who knows me knows how much I adore the works of Shakespeare, but what they might not know is that, even though I do prefer his plays, Shakespeare isn’t my favorite Elizabethan playwright—that honor goes to Christopher Marlowe, and I’ve been longing for a novel about him for years. With A Tip for the Hangman, Allison Epstein has written the queer historical spy novel of my dreams. Epstein’s prose here is beautiful and hilarious and clever beyond reason and she’s spun Kit Marlowe’s life int Anyone who knows me knows how much I adore the works of Shakespeare, but what they might not know is that, even though I do prefer his plays, Shakespeare isn’t my favorite Elizabethan playwright—that honor goes to Christopher Marlowe, and I’ve been longing for a novel about him for years. With A Tip for the Hangman, Allison Epstein has written the queer historical spy novel of my dreams. Epstein’s prose here is beautiful and hilarious and clever beyond reason and she’s spun Kit Marlowe’s life into a thrilling, romantic, and dramatic ride through Elizabethan England’s secrets and scandals that’s destined to enrapture its readers, even those who come to it bearing no knowledge of Marlowe’s life or works, because while Marlowe’s trademark violence and blasphemy could’ve easily bent him toward villainy, Epstein instead makes of Marlowe an unforgettable protagonist—a tragic hero with a filthy tongue and an unsettled mind who we can’t help but root for, even as we see the shadow of death creeping ever closer. This year, I’ll be turning the same age Marlowe was when he was murdered and I do still wonder what we could’ve gotten from him had he not met such an untimely death. That he was eventually overshadowed by Shakespeare isn’t terribly surprising, but I have a sneaking, hopeful suspicion that A Tip for the Hangman will renew an interest in Marlowe and his works. I can’t wait for this book to be out in the world, doing precisely what Marlowe did in life: raging against everything and thoroughly delighting us all the while. Thank you to Edelweiss+ and to Doubleday for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Corinne Colbert

    Christopher Marlowe is a man of our history. He existed, even if you've never heard of him, and is one of the most influential playwrights to ever live. A man of mystery, historians have speculated his life for 500 or so years, but even our author could not change his destiny. Known to his friends as Kit, he's approached at Cambridge by Frances Walsingham and offered a job as a spy for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. His first job is in the house of Mary, Queen of Scots where he proves to be good Christopher Marlowe is a man of our history. He existed, even if you've never heard of him, and is one of the most influential playwrights to ever live. A man of mystery, historians have speculated his life for 500 or so years, but even our author could not change his destiny. Known to his friends as Kit, he's approached at Cambridge by Frances Walsingham and offered a job as a spy for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. His first job is in the house of Mary, Queen of Scots where he proves to be good at his job. But being good at his job has some unintended consequences. I think the first thing I can say is I'd give Kit 12 stars as a character. I liked pretty much everything about him. His moral flexibility, loyalty to his friends, and his work ethic give his character a lot of depth. Likable. Relatable. Not another character in this book is written with quite as much care. The entire book I hoped it wouldn't end the way I knew it would. Likewise, I found some of the more villainous characters such as Poley, Baines, Cecil, and even Nick to be very one dimensional. Just a hint on why they had such a strong desire to be shitty humans would have been great. What was driving them? Character development, 3 stars. As for plot development, I think the pacing is good, with just enough tension to keep me reading. A solid 4 stars. And again, because I liked Kit. And the chapters with he and Tom were my favorites. I loved the love they had for each other, their complete lack of shame. It would have been beautiful if we had gotten a lot more open communication, between the two. That would have made my heart happy. Over all I liked the book. Mostly for Kit. I'd definitely recommend to anyone looking for a historical fiction and I'm looking forward to seeing how this author develops as a writer.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein is an excellent historical fiction that has it all: mystery, suspense, intrigue, espionage, intricate plots, and fascinating characters. This book kept me interested from beginning to end. What I love about this book the most is the way the Author took actual events, people, and real-life historic plots and weaved a tale that incorporates these items into an alternative what if. In her Author’s note, Ms. Epstein gives the reader a bit more insight into wh A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein is an excellent historical fiction that has it all: mystery, suspense, intrigue, espionage, intricate plots, and fascinating characters. This book kept me interested from beginning to end. What I love about this book the most is the way the Author took actual events, people, and real-life historic plots and weaved a tale that incorporates these items into an alternative what if. In her Author’s note, Ms. Epstein gives the reader a bit more insight into what is fact vs fiction, and what details she had to slightly alter in order to fit the narrative. What she was able to create is nothing short of fantastic. After reading this novel, I had to research more in regards to Christopher Marlowe (Kit). While I know plenty about Mary Stuart and the Babington plot, I knew nothing of Marlowe and enjoyed finding out more. I love reading HF and it inspiring me to learn more. This book is set in the late 1500s Elizabethan England. We see Kit being drawn in to spying, code breaking, lies, secrets, and espionage by Sir Francis Walsingham and the Privy Council. The Author did an amazing job creating a plot that flows to perfection, complex characters that peak interest, and creating suspense and mystery throughout to keep the reader wanting more. An excellent book, and an impressive debut. I look forward to more from this Author in the future. 5/5 stars Thank you EW and Doubleday for this excellent ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion. I am posting this review to my GR, Instagram, and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stanley McShane

    Read his full review on Rosepoint Publishing. Christopher (Kit) Marlowe lived in a time of great intrigue and strife. The throne of England was contested by Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth the First. These cousins both had genealogical claims to the throne. A cobblers’ son attending Cambridge irritated those of means. Kit had another problem, a lack of total subservience to the aristocracy. His humble beginnings were always a thorn of contention and a spear of disdain. As Kit is finishing his Read his full review on Rosepoint Publishing. Christopher (Kit) Marlowe lived in a time of great intrigue and strife. The throne of England was contested by Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth the First. These cousins both had genealogical claims to the throne. A cobblers’ son attending Cambridge irritated those of means. Kit had another problem, a lack of total subservience to the aristocracy. His humble beginnings were always a thorn of contention and a spear of disdain. As Kit is finishing his Masters’ he is approached by one of the heads of Queen Elizabeth’s spy service. His task was to unravel an intricate series of messages between Mary Queen of Scots and her supporters. Kit had shown himself very adept at breaking foreign syphers. Kit is also a very prolific playwright. He is thrust into the under-belly of London society to uncover plots against the Queen. Tangled webs of deceit and subterfuge complicate his life and endanger him wherever he goes. Forces beyond his control continue to press him to decipher and expose the potential usurper to the throne. Getting into the good graces and trust of Queen Mary is one of his assignments. He succeeds and Mary is exposed and beheaded. This author has pulled together a very believable narrative with predictable ends. Once one begins to read the book you must see it through to its’ conclusion. The smells, sights, sounds, and the religious turmoil caused by a king who wanted to divorce his wife are sad. Beheadings are a common occurrence and hanging is rampant I recommend this book to any history buff. 5 stars - C.E. Williams FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. These are my honest thoughts.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve Gornichec

    So let me start off by saying that I love historical fiction. I have a degree in history and it's always fascinating to see the ways in which authors weave a narrative out of historical happenings, the things they pick and choose to craft a story from beginning to end out of the pieces and parts that were left to us. And let me tell you: Epstein crafts a beautiful narrative. Her writing is fantastic, her dialogue is modern but not modern enough to take you out of the moment, and she has made me w So let me start off by saying that I love historical fiction. I have a degree in history and it's always fascinating to see the ways in which authors weave a narrative out of historical happenings, the things they pick and choose to craft a story from beginning to end out of the pieces and parts that were left to us. And let me tell you: Epstein crafts a beautiful narrative. Her writing is fantastic, her dialogue is modern but not modern enough to take you out of the moment, and she has made me want to know all there is to know about Kit Marlowe, whose level of wit I aspire to and who I came to care about very deeply by the end of the book despite knowing jack about him when I first picked up this novel. I'm actually glad I didn't have specific knowledge of this particular area of history because the ending of this story took me entirely by surprise. If you know what happens to Kit in "real life," you might see the signs before I did, and hopefully it'll make you appreciate this novel even more. I couldn't put it down.

  9. 5 out of 5

    H.M. Long

    A Tip for the Hangman is brilliantly written, rife with tension and wit and characters that explode from the page. Kit is a flawlessly delivered protagonist, real and nuanced, admirable and tragic and complex. Epstein also painted the historical setting exceptionally well. I came into this read knowing very little about the history surrounding Kit Marlowe, but I never once felt stranded or left behind. It's detailed and immersive without being overwhelming, and left me with a hunger to know more A Tip for the Hangman is brilliantly written, rife with tension and wit and characters that explode from the page. Kit is a flawlessly delivered protagonist, real and nuanced, admirable and tragic and complex. Epstein also painted the historical setting exceptionally well. I came into this read knowing very little about the history surrounding Kit Marlowe, but I never once felt stranded or left behind. It's detailed and immersive without being overwhelming, and left me with a hunger to know more - after I recover from those last few chapters. Highly recommended!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Addison Armstrong

    I've been putting off writing this review because no words can possibly express how much I loved this book. It's the kind of novel that transports you so fully into the narrator's head that you forget it was written by a modern-day author rather than the character himself - in this case, Kit Marlowe. Kit seems so real, with his irreverent wit and alluringly unbridled spirit, that I can't be blamed if I started talking to him when I'm sitting on the sofa! Epstein also manages to do a beautiful jo I've been putting off writing this review because no words can possibly express how much I loved this book. It's the kind of novel that transports you so fully into the narrator's head that you forget it was written by a modern-day author rather than the character himself - in this case, Kit Marlowe. Kit seems so real, with his irreverent wit and alluringly unbridled spirit, that I can't be blamed if I started talking to him when I'm sitting on the sofa! Epstein also manages to do a beautiful job with each of the other characters who get a turn from their point of view - Kit's love interest, Mary Stuart, various side characters. Each one has a unique, easily identifiable voice. I think the characters are what most drew me into the story, as well as the relationships between them. I don't want to spoil anything, but I am in LOVE with Kit and Tom (I won't tell you how it ends for them!). Beyond that, though, were the incredibly evocative settings and the fast-paced plot. I could hardly put this book down, and had to fight to keep from opening it up on my Kindle when I was driving/at work/in the middle of conversations with people. I adored A TIP FOR THE HANGMAN and cannot wait to purchase a copy when it comes out next year. Thanks to NetGalley, Knopf Doubleday, and Allison Epstein for the advance copy!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carol lowkey.bookish

    This book was an absolute joy to read! It is an intelligently written spy-thriller set in the Elizabethan era. The main character is the famous playwright, Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe. The author did a wonderful job breathing life into this character. She presents Kit as talented, smart, loyal, loving, troubled, and very human. The highlight of the book for me was how the romantic relationship between Kit and Tom developed over the course of the book. The first few chapters where Kit is trying to This book was an absolute joy to read! It is an intelligently written spy-thriller set in the Elizabethan era. The main character is the famous playwright, Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe. The author did a wonderful job breathing life into this character. She presents Kit as talented, smart, loyal, loving, troubled, and very human. The highlight of the book for me was how the romantic relationship between Kit and Tom developed over the course of the book. The first few chapters where Kit is trying to read the signs and figure out how Tom feels about him is pure magic. The book grabbed my attention right off with Kit, a poor student studying at Cambridge on scholarship, is approached by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster for a special mission. The first half of the book flew by, which made the second half of the book seem much slower to me. Just a note about the book layout...I have to say how much I appreciated that the author’s notes were put in the front of the book. They gave important historical detail and set the scene to put me in the right mindset to read this fantastic story. I highly recommend you read this amazing debut! 4.5/5 Thank you to the publisher for this free ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

  12. 5 out of 5

    R.J. Sorrento

    What a thrilling ride! It’s hard to believe this is a debut, because author Allison Epstein has crafted an intriguing historical fiction novel with such skill and mastery. I have been a Christopher Marlowe fan ever since I read Edward II for fun back in my college days so this was a treat. I had no idea that he most likely was involved in spy work for Queen Elizabeth I. I understand based on the author’s notes that not all of the events in the book are accurate but it made for an exciting and ent What a thrilling ride! It’s hard to believe this is a debut, because author Allison Epstein has crafted an intriguing historical fiction novel with such skill and mastery. I have been a Christopher Marlowe fan ever since I read Edward II for fun back in my college days so this was a treat. I had no idea that he most likely was involved in spy work for Queen Elizabeth I. I understand based on the author’s notes that not all of the events in the book are accurate but it made for an exciting and entertaining read. At the heart of the novel was an unexpectedly tender gay love story between Kit (Marlowe) and Tom. The romance was written perfectly and served as a way of showing Kit’s humanity and conscience during his downward spiral, especially in part 2 of the novel. I strongly recommend this book for historical fiction lovers, especially people who appreciate LGBTQ+ historic figures. Thank you to Doubleday for the gifted copy. #PRHPartner Look for more of my thoughts on A Tip for the Hangman on Instagram on 2/18/21.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Contino

    First of all, this does NOT read like a debut. I was hooked from the first sentence and totally immersed in Elizabethan England, following Kit from Cambridge student to spy to famed playwright. Whether you're a fan of historical fiction, royal history, or just a really good novel, this should be on your must-read list this year! First of all, this does NOT read like a debut. I was hooked from the first sentence and totally immersed in Elizabethan England, following Kit from Cambridge student to spy to famed playwright. Whether you're a fan of historical fiction, royal history, or just a really good novel, this should be on your must-read list this year!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alexis Nalley

    “Kit wrote death to purge it from his mind; London watched death for the theater of it. They’d revel in real death like poetry, and when they left, life would wash the blood from them like rain, and they would return to their work, to peace.” Thank you to Doubleday Books for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review! Have you ever thought to yourself that historical fiction needs more queer spy playwrights? Because, oh man, do I have the book for you! A Tip for the Hangman follows Christ “Kit wrote death to purge it from his mind; London watched death for the theater of it. They’d revel in real death like poetry, and when they left, life would wash the blood from them like rain, and they would return to their work, to peace.” Thank you to Doubleday Books for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review! Have you ever thought to yourself that historical fiction needs more queer spy playwrights? Because, oh man, do I have the book for you! A Tip for the Hangman follows Christopher “Kit” Marlowe from his days at Cambridge through the rest of his life while he not only works to become famous for his plays, but also helps thwart the Catholic uprisings against the Crown. We follow Kit as he goes through taverns, theatres, meeting with the most powerful men in England and the disgraced Queen of Scotland. This book is *excellent*. Kit comes to life from the first page and I loved him. Witty, reckless, arrogant, Kit is everything we want in our Elizabethan heroes and reluctant spies. The plot is full of betrayal, moral ambiguity, treason, bloodlust. All the while bringing these historical figures to life through not only their interactions with him, but also with glimpses into their thoughts and motivations. The story is compelling, fast paced, with enough tension strung throughout to keep the reader turning pages until the end. Every time I had to set down the book I did so reluctantly while constantly looking forward to being able to dive back into Kit’s life. I appreciated the modern writing that made it easy to keep up with Kit’s adventures even during the events where I didn’t have much previous knowledge. SMALL SPOILERS The last couple chapters mixing with the last few scenes of Doctor Faustus? Amazing. The scene cuts like that are one of my favorite types of raising tension and I thought this part was so well done in A Tip for the Hangman.

  15. 5 out of 5

    charlotte, (½ of readsrainbow)

    On my blog. Rep: gay mcs CWs: death, violence, execution (beheading, hang drawn & quartered), gore, implied domestic abuse, child abuse Galley provided by publisher A Tip for the Hangman is a book that will ruin you. Especially if you, like I did, make the mistake of reading the author’s note before you read the book (it’s not my fault, it came first!). I mean, it’ll ruin you either way, but it will do so even more because you know what’s coming. (So, really, my tip is, don’t read the author’s no On my blog. Rep: gay mcs CWs: death, violence, execution (beheading, hang drawn & quartered), gore, implied domestic abuse, child abuse Galley provided by publisher A Tip for the Hangman is a book that will ruin you. Especially if you, like I did, make the mistake of reading the author’s note before you read the book (it’s not my fault, it came first!). I mean, it’ll ruin you either way, but it will do so even more because you know what’s coming. (So, really, my tip is, don’t read the author’s note first. Come back to it.) The novel follows Kit Marlowe from his student days in Cambridge to everything that happens five years later (I’m being purposefully vague because I’m not sure what to say here that isn’t massive spoilers. But anyway). In the midst of his final year, he is seconded into the service of the Queen’s Spymaster, Walsingham, and sent to spy on Mary Stuart, who is believed to be fomenting rebellion in an attempt to dethrone Elizabeth. What I loved about this book was the way it brings the characters to life. I mean. Okay, they’re already real people, but there’s still a way to go from the real people of nearly 5 centuries ago to today. But this book does it so well. You can just feel Kit’s pining for Tom, or his frustration and guilt when he spies on Mary. That’s what sucks you into the book first and foremost. And it definitely helps that the plot is compelling. I think here is where it’s best not to have read the author’s note, in particular. It’s well-known history anyway (if you’re brought up doing the Tudors to absolute death in the UK school system, at least), but you want to keep that little bit of a surprise for yourself. Even if you do know what’s going to happen, though, you’re still intrigued by it all and will definitely find yourself unable to put it down. I think the only thing I liked less about this book was the ending. And that’s wholly down to me not liking tragic endings, that’s all. Probably, it wasn’t helped by my having read the author’s note, but, really, I should have expected it anyway. It’s a story about Christopher Marlowe, after all. But, minor dislike of the ending aside, this was an excellent book. And one I would highly recommend you pick up in February.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adeel

    A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein was a fascinating Elizabethan set story that explored the bittersweet life of poet, spy, and screen writer Christopher "Kit" Marlowe. The more the story moved forward the more engrossed I was by his character. I am shocked that this is Allison Epstein's debut novel. I wouldn't thought this was her 3-4 book after reading this. She is definitely a writer to watch out for😊. Having won a scholarship, Christopher Marlowe is a student at Cambridge. He comes from A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein was a fascinating Elizabethan set story that explored the bittersweet life of poet, spy, and screen writer Christopher "Kit" Marlowe. The more the story moved forward the more engrossed I was by his character. I am shocked that this is Allison Epstein's debut novel. I wouldn't thought this was her 3-4 book after reading this. She is definitely a writer to watch out for😊. Having won a scholarship, Christopher Marlowe is a student at Cambridge. He comes from humble beginnings having been the son of a cobbler. The story opens up with Kit being told to accompany Master Norgate to the masters office. Kit is nervous as he believes his father a drunk has yet again done something to land himself in jail or worse. To Kit's surprise sitting in the office is Frances Walsingham, the Spymaster for Queen Elizabeth I. Kit is instantly taken aback as he is tasked with what at first appears to be an impossible job, to infiltrate the House of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. At this moments in time Mary is under house arrest but is still plotting to take the throne. Kit must therefore decipher letters sent between Mary and her accomplices to see whether she plans to overthrow the Queen of England. Kit pretends to be a servant and somehow manages to gain valuable information leading to the inevitable death and execution of Queen Mary and her accomplices. Kit thinks himself free now to live his life and write his plays. Five years later he becomes one of the most popular playwrights in London developing a well loved play. However, it's a bittersweet ending for Kit as he's pulled back into the world of spying and conspiracy. He quickly gets trapped in a web of lies, betrayal and deceit. Where to I fricking start with this because woooow was this a fantastic read. Usually I don't gravitate towards historical fiction but after reading the blurb I was like "I need a piece of this". I'm so glad I got a piece because I loved this book and the characters so much. Kit steals the show with his humour and arrogance. He has so much depth and personality to him as well which made the story even better. You can't help but love the guy even though he always ends up getting himself into a lot of trouble due to his ego and tendency to have bar fights🤦🏽‍♂️. Other than Kit, there are so many other interesting and fascinating characters that just draw you in such as Frances Walsingham, Arthur Gregory, Mary Stuart, Anne Cooper William Cecil, and many more. I also loved the relationship between Kit and Thomas Watson. It was so pure and you just want them to be happy and live their lives. But fate isn't kind to poor wee Kit Marlowe. Half due to his own ego and I guess the other half due to circumstances being out of his hands. Reading the story also allowed me to learn so much about what happened during this time period. Like obviously being Scottish myself I had learned a bit about Mary Queen of Scots and her execution, but I learned so much more by reading the novel. There were many times I put my book down to ask Google who so and so was😂. In terms of the writing, it was flawless and absolutely fantastic. I was flicking through the pages like a mad man. I still remember looking at my watch at 2am like "one more page". One more page ended up in me finishing the whole book by 3am 😂. I was also going with my annotations as there are many memorable qoutes and scenes. "As though a spell had been lifted, Kit felt the noise of the tavern crash over him, the usual melodies of Southwark. Shouts, curses, laughter, rage." Everything about how the book was written was superb and I can't believe this is Allison's first novel. I loved the way Allison described the setting, her description of characters was also so vivid and felt real, and don't get me started on how fast paced and intense the plot was. The book has everything from betrayal, high treason, lies, deceit, and so many funny moments. The intensity throughout was real. When Kit was infiltrating the home of Mary Stuart I was on the edge because I wanted him to succeed and not get himself killed. But when Mary Stuart is caught Allison flips everything on its head because Kit feels distraught. It made me as a reader feel bad too for Mary and for Kit. "Kit slept worse with each passing week. Soon, he stayed awake until three or four in the morning, pacing the castle's halls in end. less, anxious circles to outrun the ghosts of Morgan and Babington." I honestly felt so bad for the guy by the end of the book. I loved that though and it was because of the Allison Epstein's phenomenal writing that you end up getting attached to Kit. The ending honestly made my heart collapse and I had to pick it back up real quick. Overall, I don't think my review does this book justice. Like I have so many feelings I want to express but my brain just can't write it all down lol. What I can tell you is that this is definitely one of my favourite books I've read this year, and probably one of my favourite historical fiction novels ever. Allison's description of the setting made me feel like I was there standing in their in the crowd. The writing is phenomenal, the characters draw you in deeper and deeper into the world of Kit Marlowe, and the tension is nail biting. You can't help but love Kit even though he's a numpty at times and gets himself into unnecessary trouble. If you're a historical fiction lover then this should 100% be on your list! Thank you very much to Doubleday for gifting me a copy! I am honestly so so grateful for the opportunity to have reviewed this stupendous book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Samm | Sassenach the Book Wizard

    Maybe it's because this was one of my most anticipated books or maybe because the 4 books I read before it were 5-stars but...it wasn't everything I was hoping it would be Maybe it's because this was one of my most anticipated books or maybe because the 4 books I read before it were 5-stars but...it wasn't everything I was hoping it would be

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marlene

    Originally published at Reading Reality “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” Whoops. Wrong book. Right concept, but very much the wrong book. Much too early. Elizabethan England only seems like a Golden Age because we’re looking back at it. Because history is written by the victors, and in this case the victor was Elizabeth Tudor, Gloriana herself. Anonymous 16th century portrait, believed to be Christopher Marlowe What history glosses over are the dirty deeds done, whether or not t Originally published at Reading Reality “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” Whoops. Wrong book. Right concept, but very much the wrong book. Much too early. Elizabethan England only seems like a Golden Age because we’re looking back at it. Because history is written by the victors, and in this case the victor was Elizabeth Tudor, Gloriana herself. Anonymous 16th century portrait, believed to be Christopher Marlowe What history glosses over are the dirty deeds done, whether or not they are dirt cheap, by unscrupulous men in dark places who pretend they are working for the good of their country – even if they are just out for the main chance. Christopher Marlowe, often referred to as Kit, was a comet blazing across the English stage just as William Shakespeare was getting his start. It’s even possible, although unlikely, that Marlowe actually was Shakespeare. He’s got the credentials for it and the timing is possible. On the condition that Marlowe faked his own rather suspicious death in a barroom brawl. We’ll probably never know. But this book, this story wrapped around not one but several tips for any number of hangmen, leads the reader – and Kit Marlowe – to that suspicious barroom brawl by a road that is surprising, circuitous and shrouded in secrets. The kind of secrets that brought one queen to her end and saved another’s kingdom. Escape Rating A+: A Tip for the Hangman is the best kind of historical fiction, the kind where the reader feels the dirt under their fingernails, the grit under their own feet – and the smells in their own nostrils. It’s also the kind that immerses the reader in the era it portrays. We’re right there with Marlowe, a poor scholarship student at Cambridge, as he becomes Doctor Faustus to his own personal Mephistopheles a decade before he wrote his most enduring play. Depiction of Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Elizabeth I, Queen of England. It’s hard to get past that image, even though we only see it in retrospect, as the Queen’s Spymaster and Secretary of State, Francis Walsingham, recruits the young, impoverished and most importantly clever Marlowe into his network of agents and informants with one aim in mind. To bring down Elizabeth’s great rival, Mary, Queen of Scots. A recruitment which ultimately becomes Mary’s end. But eventually also Marlowe’s as well. Marlowe spends the entire book dancing on the edge of a knife, trying to forget that he’ll be cut no matter which way he falls and ignoring the forces around him, along with his own increasing world-weariness, that guarantee he will fall sooner or later. There’s something about this period, the Tudor and Stuart era of English history, that has always captivated me. This book does a fantastic job of drawing the reader into the cut and thrust not of politics so much as the skullduggery that lies underneath it. As I was reading A Tip for the Hangman, my mind dragged up two series that I loved that feature the same period and have many characters that overlap this book. Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age puts an urban fantasy/portal twist on this period and includes both Marlowe and Shakespeare as featured characters, while Dorothy Dunnett’s marvelous Lymond series focuses on a character who spies on many of the same people that Marlowe does here, most notably Mary, Queen of Scots. Lymond’s frequent second, third and fourth thoughts about the life he has fallen into echo Marlowe in the depths of regret and even despair. A Tip for the Hangman is a fantastic book for those looking for their history and historical fiction to be “warts and all” – to immerse the reader in life as it was lived and not just the deeds and doings of the high and mighty. Because when it comes to conveying a more nuanced version of life as a hard-scrabbling playwright living hand to mouth and fearing that the hand would get cut off this feels like an absorbing story of fiction being the lie that tells, if not THE absolute truth then absolutely a certain kind of truth. I would also say, “Read it and weep” for Kit Marlowe and what he might have been if he’d lived. Instead, I’ll just say “READ IT!”

  19. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    Just as delightfully atmospheric and far more fun than I had anticipated. Much of Kit Marlowe’s life and the circumstances of his death have been lost to history. Allison Epstein gives us a novelized version of one possible theory here, and it doesn’t disappoint. There’s good support for the postulation that’s Marlowe was a spy for the Crown, and Epstein brings that to being expertly in A Tip for the Hangman, using a combination of historical fact and research-supported theory to offer one possibl Just as delightfully atmospheric and far more fun than I had anticipated. Much of Kit Marlowe’s life and the circumstances of his death have been lost to history. Allison Epstein gives us a novelized version of one possible theory here, and it doesn’t disappoint. There’s good support for the postulation that’s Marlowe was a spy for the Crown, and Epstein brings that to being expertly in A Tip for the Hangman, using a combination of historical fact and research-supported theory to offer one possible story of Marlowe’s intriguing life and even more intriguing untimely death. Given his early and unnatural demise, the ending of the book is a sad one. Epstein has written an effervescent, funny, and charming Marlowe, and though we know going in that his story doesn’t end happily, it’s still a bit wrenching to read. That said, most of the book boasts a spirit of adventuresome fun rather than impending tragedy, and though Marlowe’s life of espionage keeps him in a perpetual Under the Sword of Damocles like existence, Epstein deftly keeps the tone light and enjoyable while still conveying a sense of urgency and danger. As I always do with Historical Fiction, I’ll grade the author’s note at the end. This one gets an A. *I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

  20. 5 out of 5

    Abi Walton

    After a lolling start, The Tip Of The Hangman had a wonderful ending. Seeped in historical events and legend The Tip For The Hangman reads like a diary from Marlowe as he struggles with balancing his life as a poet and spy for the crown. I have always been fascinated with Christopher Marlowe and his ties with William Shakespeare. I think this love stemmed from reading Elizabeth Bear's wonderful series Promethean Age, and the relationship between Marlowe and Shakespeare. Epstein's reimagining of M After a lolling start, The Tip Of The Hangman had a wonderful ending. Seeped in historical events and legend The Tip For The Hangman reads like a diary from Marlowe as he struggles with balancing his life as a poet and spy for the crown. I have always been fascinated with Christopher Marlowe and his ties with William Shakespeare. I think this love stemmed from reading Elizabeth Bear's wonderful series Promethean Age, and the relationship between Marlowe and Shakespeare. Epstein's reimagining of Marlowe's life was thrilling and tragically sad. I felt the struggle and impossible position Marlowe was in the only light in his life is Tom and his plays which mirror his struggle. (view spoiler)[ I would have liked to have had an epilogue to make sure Tom was okay after Marlowe's death. I needed to see him walk away and carry on after everything he had also been through (hide spoiler)] Overall I always love novels where Marlow is our protagonist. He will always hold a special part in my heart with Will Shakespeare and anymore I can learn about him is a wonderful book. I adored Epstein's portrayal of her Marlowe and am excited to see what else Epstein will write in the future.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    a historical book about christopher marlowe, spies, the 16th century AND there's LGBT+ romance? SIGN ME UP. blog | instagram | twitter a historical book about christopher marlowe, spies, the 16th century AND there's LGBT+ romance? SIGN ME UP. blog | instagram | twitter

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sydney Young

    Wild & Fraught This is the Kit Marlowe I’ve been waiting to see. Throughly enjoyable romp Through Elizabethan England with a Kit who tries so hard to find himself. Will he? Did he? We know What happens, yet we can’t help but hope.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    this rating is so CONFLICTED. review coming because (I think) I have a lot to say.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Poppy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 'A TIP FOR THE HANGMAN' by Allision Epstein ("The art of fiction is an art of make-believe." Henry James) Christopher Marlow one of the great English playwrites & poets of the Elizabethan era & yet so little is known about him. Allison Epstein fills in, with great expertise, the empty areas in Kit Marlows life. This is a lovely novel & an exellent read. 'A TIP FOR THE HANGMAN' by Allision Epstein ("The art of fiction is an art of make-believe." Henry James) Christopher Marlow one of the great English playwrites & poets of the Elizabethan era & yet so little is known about him. Allison Epstein fills in, with great expertise, the empty areas in Kit Marlows life. This is a lovely novel & an exellent read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    What a dramatic introduction to Christopher Marlowe ! Allison Epstein has written a spell-binding, page-turning, dramatic historical novel centered around efforts to bring a Catholic monarch to the crown of Great Britain during Elizabethan times. I didn't realize how little I knew about Christopher Marlowe until introduced to him through this novel. He is presented as a compelling personality, larger than life, full of ego, talent and equal amounts of complexity and duplicity. I was drawn to the What a dramatic introduction to Christopher Marlowe ! Allison Epstein has written a spell-binding, page-turning, dramatic historical novel centered around efforts to bring a Catholic monarch to the crown of Great Britain during Elizabethan times. I didn't realize how little I knew about Christopher Marlowe until introduced to him through this novel. He is presented as a compelling personality, larger than life, full of ego, talent and equal amounts of complexity and duplicity. I was drawn to the story, but also hesitant to embrace it. There was little foreshadowing of a happy ending, but the character's maturation as a playwright and as a man was an interesting study. I was more drawn to literature than history as a University student and in the many succeeding years I have made up for the shortcomings in my historical knowledge by reading novels such as this. The temptation is to read fiction as fact when the story is told in a compelling fashion such as this. I understand that historians and scholars are still speculating on the tavern scene that ends this book---and, whether this fiction is factual, we can agree that it was dramatic and tragic. Netgalley provided me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for a candid review

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    When historical novelists depart from the recorded facts of history on occasion, it’s generally understandable. For example, in her excellent novel of the Wars of the Roses, The Kingmaker’s Daughter, Philippa Gregory ignores the six-month interregnum in the reign of King Edward IV, and that matters little. But Allison Epstein wanders much too far from the facts in her historical spy story, A Tip for the Hangman. The novel is an alternate history of sorts, since many of the events central to the When historical novelists depart from the recorded facts of history on occasion, it’s generally understandable. For example, in her excellent novel of the Wars of the Roses, The Kingmaker’s Daughter, Philippa Gregory ignores the six-month interregnum in the reign of King Edward IV, and that matters little. But Allison Epstein wanders much too far from the facts in her historical spy story, A Tip for the Hangman. The novel is an alternate history of sorts, since many of the events central to the plot never happened. But alternate history serves to examine what might have taken place if some act or decision known to history had gone the other way. And there’s none of that in this story. Although A Tip for the Hangman is well enough written—the style is pleasing—Epstein has built her novel around well-known events and personalities but scrambled the people and the timeline involved. The story as Epstein tells it Christopher Marlowe is a graduate student at the University of Cambridge in 1585 when he receives a surprise visitor from London. It’s none other than Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. Walsingham operates a spy network and presses Marlowe into enlisting. It’s a perfect beginning for an historical spy story. Marlowe is first assigned to join the household of Lady Mary Stuart, formerly Queen of Scots. There, he is to gather information about the assassination plots swirling around her and find incriminating evidence of her involvement. Much later, Walsingham sends him on assignment to insinuate himself into another ring of conspirators around Lord Strange who are intent on murdering Queen Elizabeth. Naturally, Marlowe succeeds both times. What history tells us Christopher Marlowe Marlowe (1564-93) was just twenty-one years of age and a candidate for a master’s degree from Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge when Walsingham may have recruited him. Later, Marlowe became one of the leading lights of the Elizabethan Era as a poet, playwright, and translator. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, whom he is believed to have inspired with his popular play Tamburlaine. LIke his later works, Tamburlaine pandered to the theater-going masses with displays of extreme violence and cruelty. The playwright’s premature death at twenty-nine death has variously been blamed on a bar-room fight, blasphemous libel against the church, homosexual intrigue, betrayal by another playwright, and espionage from England’s Privy Council, of which Francis Walsingham was a leading member. Mary, Queen of Scots Fanatic Catholics, already furious with Queen Elizabeth for spurning the Church of Rome, were prepared to assassinate her even before she imprisoned her cousin, Mary Stuart (1542-87), formerly Queen of Scots and Queen of France. With her as a focus of their rage—Mary arguably had been a more legitimate candidate for the throne than Elizabeth—the pace of attempts on her life accelerated. And Mary herself was known to be in league with Catholic activists both within England and abroad. In fact, it was the proof of her conspiring with Felipe II (Phillip) of Spain (1527-98) in the Babington Plot that led to her trial for treason and ultimate execution. She later became the focus of many a historical spy story. But when we meet Mary in 1585, she is very much alive. Now forty-three years of age, she has been widowed three times. She had borne a son with her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. The son, now James VI of Scotland, is the same King James who was to succeed Queen Elizabeth as James I in 1603. He was also the king whose name became associated with the King James Bible. He sponsored the translation into English and, many scholars believe, edited the elegant prose. Sir Francis Walsingham Queen Elizabeth did, in fact, charge her long-serving Secretary of State, Francis Walsingham (1532-90), with assembling a network of “Eyes of the Queen.” And Christopher Marlowe was probably among the many agents he enlisted in the Queen’s cause. He certainly dragooned other students from Oxford and Cambridge for his network. He was known to be passionate about the Protestant cause and harbor deep hatred toward Catholics. During the reign of Elizabeth’s half-sister, Queen Mary I of England, Walsingham was in exile with other Protestants on the Continent. It was Walsingham who is thought to have been the most influential in persuading a reluctant Queen Elizabeth to order the execution of her cousin, Lady Mary Stuart. The conspiracies Walsingham’s spies did infiltrate Lady Mary’s household and foil the Babington Plot to kill the Queen and put Mary on the throne. But Christopher Marlowe had nothing to do with it. There were numerous other Catholic conspiracies. However, history doesn’t record any of them associated with Lord Strange. Lord Strange Lord Strange (rhymes with “rang”)—more formally, Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (1559-94)—was a patron of the theater, as Epstein notes. Will Shakespeare was reportedly both an actor and a playwright in the company he patronized, but it’s unclear whether Strange had any connection with Marlowe. The novel’s redeeming qualities Apart from her skill as a prose stylist, Epstein succeeds in telling a tale that held my attention to the last. Despite crafting an historical spy story that ignores history, and portraying a few too many bad guys as smirking, Epstein conjures up a believable picture of life in the Elizabethan Era. The yawning gap between the aristocracy and the great masses of people. The desperation of the poor. The high infant mortality rate and low life expectancy. The vulnerability to the challenges of winter weather. The clothing styles, the rampant drunkenness. It’s all there. And Christopher Marlowe was, in all likelihood, gay, a brawler, and an assertive and even aggressive heretic who spurned religion altogether. Epstein depicts him as all this, and more, and she does so convincingly. She imagines a passionate love affair between him and his roommate at Cambridge, and she pulls that off, too. Even though it never really happened. About the author A short form of the bio on Allison Epstein‘s website reads, “Allison Epstein earned her M.F.A. in fiction from Northwestern University and a B.A. in creative writing and Renaissance literature from the University of Michigan. A Michigan native, she now lives in Chicago, where she works as a copywriter. When not writing, she enjoys good theater, bad puns, and fancy jackets. A Tip for the Hangman is her first novel.”

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cristina

    Well, this was fun and well-written enough that I didn’t mind the lack of Elizabethan lingo as much as I usually do, which in itself is quite an accomplishment (Elizabethans were so eloquent and witty, and this is from one of their major poets! Go to, fellows), but this still is cotton-candy level of missed opportunities, methinks. If you don't know Marlowe from Conrad, then you may like this better. So this latest foray into historical fanfic follows Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, a poor scholarshi Well, this was fun and well-written enough that I didn’t mind the lack of Elizabethan lingo as much as I usually do, which in itself is quite an accomplishment (Elizabethans were so eloquent and witty, and this is from one of their major poets! Go to, fellows), but this still is cotton-candy level of missed opportunities, methinks. If you don't know Marlowe from Conrad, then you may like this better. So this latest foray into historical fanfic follows Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, a poor scholarship student who escaped his small town of Canterbury for the scholastic asceticism of Cambridge, struggling through mind-numbing scholastic texts and his growing attraction to his handsome roommate, Tom Watson. But when the Queen's spymaster Thomas Walsingham offers Kit a mission at Mary Stuart’s household, it begins his meteoric rise to spying and theater poet greatness, becoming a huge influence on Shakespeare himself, as well as his plaguing guilt over the seedy machinations of the Elizabethan military-Protestant complex. In the end, not all the wits and cleverness our Kit possesses can save him from the twisted gears of the state machine. So as decently researched as this was, and the changes to the historical record reasonable enough, I couldn’t help but feel the several missed opportunities zipping by as I read along. Kit’s spy initiation and training felt off; it did not seem at all likely the big TW himself would pick out Kit (how did he even judge his quality?) as a spy out of the other poor young Cambridge sizars. By all accounts Kit’s temper would have been a red flag. I have a feeling this could have been acquaintance or an acquaintance-of-an-acquaintance thing, doing little missions here and there before the top brass realized his quality. Still, it would have taken page time to develop, and there is the (interrupted, alas) Babington affair to embark on as a first victory. The Kit/Watson pairing, however, did get much better development, although at times I wished it didn’t fall into the sensitive-loyal-companion/brilliant-but-less-sensitive-man-of-genius template—Watson understandably doesn’t approve of Kit’s choice of a side gig, and Kit must cover his tracks when he is inevitably sucked into the maw of state espionage, which causes trouble in paradise. Nothing deal-breaking, it's just a little old. Particularly when you get stuff like: This kind, handsome, clever man, brave and loyal and charming, who loved him. Who had suffered for him and still stood by his side, wanting nothing more than a breath of quiet in repayment. What wouldn’t Kit have given to leave this behind, turn his back on the gallows, and give Tom the peace he’d always wanted?” (316). It’s too smooth for me; I can see Watson’s cinnamon-roll-too-good-too-pure-for-this-world going over well for the fangirl set, but for actual drama, it’s a snooze. Especially considering the historical Watson had a seedy side as well that could have played interestingly (kinkily?) against Marlowe’s own spy adventures.* I found myself wishing Kit would have a quick, hot fling with someone else or that a love triangle would emerge to tempt him, however briefly, to the dark side (maybe with Poley? There are some intimations of his using seduction for intelligence purposes). It’d also give Watson a chance to fight for his man on an emotional plane as well as a physical one. Shakespeare could have acted just fine as the concerned, critical friend against Marlowe’s spy shenanigans; as it was, he was just a bit character here. But I’m still grateful that there was no Shakespeare/Marlowe (my NOTP—if you know, you know) nor any Kyd/Marlowe (no). Tom Walsingham still feels right and suitably dishy to me as a Marlowe lover, wife notwithstanding. As for Marlowe, I felt a lot of iconoclastic personality was muted, in favor of a well-done, but strangely not very compelling portrayal of his PTSD. As a result, he was a lot less fun to read than (some) iterations of him, and the attempt to shoe-in a true love plot didn’t help matters either. I know there is a decent chance for Marlowe’s avant-garde personality to be a front (his atheism especially seemed more along the lines of Arianism) and Baines was definitely not the most trustworthy of witnesses. But as Epstein does take the legends and anecdotes attributed to Marlowe at face value, it would have been nice if she could have had more fun with that before getting into the tragic ramifications of his death. This is the all-they-that-love-not-tobacco-and-boys-are-fools guy, after all. How can you make him such a sad tragic gay after that? My bar may be too high, admittedly. *Checked my notes and Odd’s my life, Watson’s brother-in-law was literally Robert Poley. Apparently Poley abandoned Watson’s sister to elope with one Joan Youmans while he was at Marshalsea prison. Watson went on to draw up a fake marriage contract on at least one occasion. These Elizabethans, man, never a dull moment.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cebrina

    I'm am a little torn on this, despite the fact that I really did like it. (view spoiler)[ Alright, so here's what I did like: The plot is very fast paced, interesting, and keeps you engaged from page one. Kit walks a fine line between utter disaster and accidentally brilliant, and he shines the brightest when he's caught off guard and emotional, whether that emotion is anger, guilt, or desperate hope. His and Tom's love was also a bright spot; it felt authentic, with both of them trying to keep th I'm am a little torn on this, despite the fact that I really did like it. (view spoiler)[ Alright, so here's what I did like: The plot is very fast paced, interesting, and keeps you engaged from page one. Kit walks a fine line between utter disaster and accidentally brilliant, and he shines the brightest when he's caught off guard and emotional, whether that emotion is anger, guilt, or desperate hope. His and Tom's love was also a bright spot; it felt authentic, with both of them trying to keep the other safe, neither of them perfect, but both desperately in love with one another. Tom's last chapter--and the last chapter of the book--carried such exquisite pain for the reader, who knows Kit's fate while Tom doesn't. I hope book-Tom didn't give into despair and didn't end up like his namesake. Finally, I loved how Kit's plays corresponded to his inner turmoil, especially Dr. Faustus. While we don't follow Kit's journey during the actual writing of it, we can read his experiences in the scenes that appear in the text. Our reading of Dr. Faustus is filtered through Tom as the view-point character for these scenes, and that makes them all the more poignant. It also hurts, 'cus Tom's got such hope and grief in this scene, and it's going to turn to ash once the book is ended. And now, for the things that... nagged at me. It's not that I didn't like them, more that they frustrated me, and thus the reason for three stars rather than four. The first is slightly petty, I will admit that: I do so wish that we'd have gotten more material details about the time period. There are very few architectonic or clothes descriptions, which, for me, means that the "world" becomes slightly generic and 'brownish grey' in my head. For a book partially focused on Kit's humble background and his rise to fame, it would've been nice to see a more detailed description of the social classes other than simply the richest rich (Whitehall) and the abject poor in the street. The layers between those two was lost, and I'm a little sad about that. Secondly, and this one might seem like a contradiction given that I really did like the pacing of the plot: the impact of certain events fall slightly flat, because we are not given time to dwell on them. Perhaps also because so much needs to happen on relatively few pages. The timeline blurs together, even with the dates noted. As a result, Kit's relationships also come off as slightly odd; it's difficult to understand why he's attached to certain people when their interactions are so limited and quick. I wish we'd seen more of him with his mentors especially, so that we might see why they have so much trust and care for him despite their training and circumstances. Thirdly and lastly, the stakes were only truly felt in the second half of the book. Despite fumbles, Kit somehow makes it through the entire first half barely suffering any consequences (other than guilt and disgust); everything falls into place, be it his education, Tom, or his career. Not until the second half do you fear for Kit's continued safety (especially if you know how Marlowe lived and died), which does, however, mean that ones things start going south they really go south. Overall, this is a very enjoyable book; it's got action, love, heartbreak (mainly on the reader's part, 'cus we don't get to see Tom's reaction to Kit's demise and honestly? Not sure I could handle that anyway), and political intrigue. The characters are allowed to make mistakes, even if their problems do resolve themselves rather quickly, and thus also allowed to grow. Definitely worth a re-read. (hide spoiler)]

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    '...The truth was he'd been angry every day of his life for seven years. Ever since Arthur Gregory first showed him the sketch of the woman he was meant to betray to her death. His hands the ones covered in blood, so that a queen who would never even speak to him might wield power beyond imagination. Might conquer the world while Kit fought for a cut of his own profits, to spend an uninterrupted hour with the man he loved, to stay alive in a world where he could trust no one.' Good lord, this boo '...The truth was he'd been angry every day of his life for seven years. Ever since Arthur Gregory first showed him the sketch of the woman he was meant to betray to her death. His hands the ones covered in blood, so that a queen who would never even speak to him might wield power beyond imagination. Might conquer the world while Kit fought for a cut of his own profits, to spend an uninterrupted hour with the man he loved, to stay alive in a world where he could trust no one.' Good lord, this book. I adored it. I adored every single bit of it. Whilst I've been somewhat interested in Christopher Marlowe ever since my masters (I used his Edward II quite a bit in my MA dissertation), I always paid more attention to his work than to his life. The story of his death and the fact that he was probably a spy always interested me, but frankly, I was far too enamoured with the likes of Walter Raleigh to pay Marlowe any specific attention. Though this book is a work of fiction, it's made me realise how wrong I have been. I never expected to grow so attached to Kit Marlowe, but it got to the point where I had to slow down reading because I wasn't quite ready for his death. The relationship between Kit and Tom was beautifully done, the characterisation of Walsingham and Cecil was perfect, and the uneasy, dangerous nature of late Elizabethan politics was captured incredibly. Whilst it is heavily fictionalised (which on any other occasion I might have had a problem with) it is done so sympathetically and with purpose. Kit's involvement in the Babington Plot, for example, served to highlight the real consequences of being involved with Walsingham's spy network. Kit's grief and guilt at Mary, Queen of Scots' death was mirrored by Walsingham's own haunted expression and weariness. It's something not often seen in historical fiction, where espionage is thrilling and exciting. Here, it is haunting and nightmarish, with real blood being spilt, and it perfectly complemented the unstable atmosphere of Elizabethan England. And (slight spoiler?? maybe?? it did happen almost four hundred and fifty years ago)... the tension of that closing chapter.... the juxtaposition between Kit about to die, and Tom watching Faustus' opening night was remarkable (and very, very cruel... my heart may never recover). Their relationship was so beautifully done that it was inevitable I'd be heartbroken at the end of this book. Things like this: '...They kissed, and Tom clung to it, fighting to shut out the world. The only fight worth winning. Only this. This feeling. Kit's lips against his, the faint trembling sense that neither of them could let go, that if they let go, the other would fall. Not an embrace but a shipwreck, hanging on against the waves.' ... just made me adore those two, and their relationship was one of the best things about this book. I also really, really loved the extensive author's note at the back explaining exactly what has been altered and what has been made up completely (insert heart eyes emoji here). Things like that make every single bend in the truth, and every single date brought forward by a decade, completely and utterly okay for me, because there's a reason. This isn't The Tudors mashing Margaret and Mary Tudor into one person for no good reason, so I am 100% fine with the historical inaccuracies in this. So... yeah. I could fangirl about this book for forever, because I loved it. I don't think I expected to love it as much as I did, but it has definitely become a favourite.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shawne

    I very much wanted to love this book - in fact, I was full on expecting to. But it took me ages to finish, and I didn't particularly enjoy the experience of it for some reason. I can't quite articulate or pinpoint why that is. Because, on paper at least, Allison Epstein writes very well, and she is basically blending together a checklist of all my favourite fictional tropes. Espionage! Romance! Theatre! Historical fiction! Over the many weeks I spent putting this book down and then almost grudgi I very much wanted to love this book - in fact, I was full on expecting to. But it took me ages to finish, and I didn't particularly enjoy the experience of it for some reason. I can't quite articulate or pinpoint why that is. Because, on paper at least, Allison Epstein writes very well, and she is basically blending together a checklist of all my favourite fictional tropes. Espionage! Romance! Theatre! Historical fiction! Over the many weeks I spent putting this book down and then almost grudgingly picking it back up again, I mused about why it didn't work for me. Partly it's because I don't connect with Epstein's writing style. For me, her attempts at depth and characterisation don't quite work - and I will forgive a lot if you give me a coherent, deeply felt, real character to root for. Her characters drifted into one another, but never quite connected, with me or with one another. And then, I just couldn't buy into the plot of the novel either. I barely knew any of the real historical facts of Christopher Marlowe's life - we know the other Elizabethan playwright far better - and I did skim Wikipedia but decided I'd rather just let the story take me wherever it wanted to go. So it's not like I was fretting about historical accuracy all the time. I just couldn't fathom how Epstein's spies operated - none of the work they did felt real, from Kit's recruitment to the nigh-on miraculous work he did (in the novel) in Her Majesty's service. Turns out Kit's time in Mary Stuart's household didn't feel remotely real or credible because it WASN'T based in fact. To that end, I found reading Epstein's afterword both illuminating and frustrating, because she explains where she turned fiction into fact and vice versa - and I found myself disagreeing with most of those decisions because I didn't feel as if they lent her novel more narrative coherence, as she claimed. By the end, I almost wished Epstein had just broken with fact and history entirely, instead of trying to shape her novel around a life she was constantly rewriting to suit her own purposes anyway. All her ostensible nods to historical fact end up feeling awkward and dragging the book out or slowing it down in a way that doesn't ring true. When Ingram Frizer turned up at the end, I wanted to scream because it just all felt like pointless historical name-checking that didn't mean anything. Give me this same story, with that same rich undercurrent of love between Kit and Tom (the best part of this book), but set it free from this weird, alienating mix of fact and fiction.

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