Sarah A. Hoyt,
Ill Met by Moonlight
(Ace, 2001)

A young schoolmaster wends his way home, but when he gets to his house, it is silent and empty. His wife and infant daughter are gone, but there is no sign of a struggle. Nothing remains to indicate where they have gone.

The plot of Sara A. Hoyt's debut novel might sound like a story from a modern-day newspaper, but the schoolmaster is a young William Shakespeare. His wife, Anne Hathaway, here called Nan, has been kidnaped by Sylvanus, usurping elf king of the Realms Above the Air and Beneath the Hills of Avalon. Sylvanus wants her to be a wet nurse for his own daughter from his late mortal queen and, ultimately, his new queen.

Sylvanus's younger brother, Quicksilver, who has the ability to shift between male and female forms, should have been king. He believes that Sylvanus arranged the assassination of their parents, Queen Titania and King Oberon, but he has no way to seize his power back, until he meets Will wandering in Arden Forest. Using his dark-haired female form, Quicksilver approaches Will, hoping to make the young mortal into the instrument of his vengeance.

Hoyt peppers the novel with a variety of Shakespearian quotes, few of which, if any, are uttered by Will. The various plot elements reflect the plays as well: the brooding prince, the usurping king and the maiden spurned by the one she loves are all represented among others. In addition, the novel offers a fanciful explanation for the identity of Shakespeare's mysterious "dark lady" as well as the source of his inspiration.

The novel also suggests that Shakespeare's wife, Nan, might not have been the harridan that history has depicted. Hoyt offers an interesting and viable alternative interpretation, and she employs Nan's willful nature as a positive characteristic, giving her the strength to resist Sylvanus. At the same time, she has a vulnerable spot which inspires not only sympathy by empathy in the reader.

Hoyt's descriptive prose sparkles, invoking the strangeness of the faerie world, the terror of the encounter with the Wild Hunt and the homely details of life in Elizabethan England, right up to the satisfying conclusion. Ill Met by Moonlight is an engaging first novel, and Hoyt is an author to watch.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 26 January 2002

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