RogerBW's Blog

The Armor of Light, Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett 08 October 2020

1988 historical fantasy. In 1595, Elizabeth has decided that James of Scotland shall be her heir. But he is beset by witches, and she sends her champion, Sir Philip Sidney, to aid him.

In 1595. Hang on, didn't he… yes. And not only did this world's Sidney survive Zutphen, he was on hand to rescue Kit Marlowe from that tavern in Deptford. Sidney is scholar, poet, soldier… and wizard, trained (as he was historically!) by John Dee, and using all his gifts in service of the Queen.

Dee's here too, of course; so are Bothwell the Wizard Earl, Walter Raleigh, Robert Cecil, Shakespeare, and most of the people one would expect to see in a late Elizabethan story. And while the authors have clearly had to make choices about people's characters, which aren't always the best estimates of modern scholarshop, this is a book from over thirty years ago. What matters to me more than this kind of accuracy is consistency: these are complex and real people, and they and their relationships ring true. Even the villains make sense by their own lights.

The actual plot is sadly straightforward: the nature of the threat to James is soon discovered, and it's mostly a question of working round his objections (some reasonable, some not) to give him real protection. Side matters are more interesting, such as Sidney's wife Frances (daughter of Walsingham) and the work she does in London while her husband is in Edinburgh. Things may be a little slow at times but an ongoing practical attention to detail (clothes are expensive) is welcome. Overall I rather enjoy this, though I suspect it suffers a little from trying to fit all the research into one book.

(Taken from back in the day; I can't find a copy on now.)

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