by Stephanie Cowell
Anglophiles, particularly those with a passion for the Elizabethan era, will relish this detail-rich, fictional account of Nicholas Cooke, a poor, orphaned boy who runs away from Canterbury to seek his fortune in London. There he falls in love with iconoclastic playwright Kit Morley (aka Christopher Marlowe), who gets him involved in the theater and introduces him to struggling fellow playwright Will Shagspere (yes, that’s right). Always restless, Cooke eventually moves on to become a soldier, then a doctor, and finally, though already married and the father of two, he fulfills his true lifelong ambition of becoming a priest.
Cowell does an excellent job of portraying Elizabethan life without being overly academic. She is less successful, however, in making readers care about Cooke or his odyssey. Still, for a first novel, Cowell has chosen a refreshingly unusual subject that invites readers into a world they might otherwise think is too removed to enter. (Norton, $24)