Rating: 3.5* of fiveThe Book Description: Kit Marley and William Shakespeare are playwrights in the service of Queen Elizabeth, employed by the Prometheus Club. Their words, infused with magic, empower Her Majesty's rule. But some of the Prometheans, comprised of England's most influential men and mages, conspire to usurp the Queen.Able to walk in both worlds, Kit seeks allies to aid him in his mission to protect Elizabeth only to encounter enemies, mortal and monster, who will stop at nothing to usher in a new age. But despite the might of his adversaries, Kit possesses more power than even he can possibly imagine.My Review: I can't believe I so spectacularly failed to pay attention to the position this book occupies in a series! I am usually completely obsessive about reading series in order. I dislike intensely the feeling of not understanding why something is a climactic moment, when the structure so clearly says that it is...and then, going back to fill in the backstory, I run across the cliffhanger or set-up for the later climax and it's just completely ruined by foreknowledge.Anyway. This is the fourth book of “The Promethean Age” series Bear wrote in an alternate England still touching the Faerie lands ruled by the Mebd (given to us by Shakespeare, our primary POV character, as Queen Mab). The reason for Queen Elizabeth I's greatness and enduring fame are given as her England's intertwined destiny with Faerie, and her own shadowing of the Mebd's rise to power.Christopher Marlowe, Richard Baines, Ben Jonson, Thomas Walsingham and a host of other factual figures are used cleverly in this fictional story of intrigues resolved and debts of dishonor paid. It's a wonderful, creative beast stitched together like a Faerie bard's patchwork cloak from bits and snatches of fact and hints of facts gleaned by the careful between-the-lines reading of the author. The conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot, which was a Catholic effort to blow King James I and his family to Glory at the opening of a Parliamentary session, are revealed to have been making a Royal sacrifice, one that would spill Royal blood to sustain the order of the Universe as it was and therefore to prevent change from coming to the material world.The dark machinations of the Prometheans are all in service of giving the world a vengeful, angry God that will enforce the power and influence of the Prometheans themselves and their evil legatees The poets and playwrights Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson et alii are allied against the Prometheans in these designs, gifted with the most extraordinary ability to write the world in the image they'd have it take. Their loyalty is to Elizabeth, Gloriana as she was then known to her world, the strongest Royal ruler England was ever to know. Their plays and poems are all calculated to give her reign the full force and power she needs to guide England through its rejection of world-straddling Catholicism and its dominion over Faerie.It's a very frustrating read at first because the book is written in faux-Shakespeearean English, with “thee” and “thou” and “sitteth” heaved around with seeming randomness. The effort I made to read past this stylistic tic was too much, and I would have abandoned ship early on, except I love the story itself. As I slogged on, I realized Bear isn't being random in her use of the old-fashioned English forms. She's pointing up, subtly and nicely (in the oldest sense of that word), the shift that Shakespeare and Marlowe were leading into modern forms of English I shifted from tooth-gritted impatience to a mellower judgment, followed closely by a respectful half-awe at the subtlety of this device and its deployment. Oh, well done, I found myself thinking many times as Lucifer and angel Mehiel and Marlowe would converse Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe, here lovers of the most passionate sort, are the only characters who never use anything but the familiar “thee” to each other. It's exactly right for them. It's so quiet that it might easily go unremarked, but if you read this series, be on the lookout for this trope. It will add something good and large to your appreciation of the writing.Homosexuality. Big topic. I am on record as finding the modern desire to “out” people in history as “gay” before such an identity existed as absurd. These men, though, aren't gay in the modern identity sense They're in love with each other, and the married one (Shakespeare) is deeply and lastingly troubled by his infidelity to his wife with Marlowe. They reach an accommodation, one reached by many, many people caught in that situation before and since, of acknowledging their love, not acting on it. Cold comfort for the spouse of the one, terrible pain for all, and nothing to be done about it. Well, that's the nature of marriage, isn't it? Making choices, sticking to them as best one can, cobbling together the most workable solution for all the parties. It's a ringingly true part of this writer's repertoire to explore the love and the passion and the needs of people in ordinary situations. She's done so in every one of her books that I've read, and it's a good reason to try her books out if you haven't yet.I remain annoyed that I know the end of the story before I've read the beginning. I wish like fury I'd started at the start and only reached this point after going where Bear wanted me to go first. But, unless something very weird has happened here, I'd recommend that you go read the books in their proper order: Blood and Iron, Whiskey and Water, Ink and Steel, and lastly Hell and Earth. The ending is one helluva (pardon, please, the pun after you read the books) bang that is really worth the buck.