Young actors/spies find themselves on a new mission when the death of Queen Elizabeth sparks a Catholic plot to assassinate King James as historical characters from William Shakespeare to Francis Bacon trot into and out of view.
In one plotline, said Catholic conspirators work to recruit amnesiac archer Richard Fletcher to their cause, while in another, Richard’s thespian sister, Alice (disguised as “Adam” and believing since the previous episode that her brother is dead), is involved in a scheme of spymaster Robert Cecil’s to trick an imprisoned priest into revealing his allies. Ultimately the conspiracy is exposed—but not before events bring Richard, Alice, her friend Tom, royal political pawn Arbella Stuart, and Shakespeare himself (hard at work on Othello) together as captives who then escape in a nighttime rumpus through the Forest of Arden. Though light on period detail and also on explicit violence, the tale does move along smartly to a happy ending (for Cecil and King James anyway) and a joyful reunion for Alice and Richard. Woolf gives the all-white cast’s female characters at least minor roles in effecting their rescues, an arguably anachronistic touch, and depicts the aforementioned priest as a rousingly scary, vicious brute, which is totally in keeping with Protestant attitudes of the times. While American audiences will probably not feel the historical tensions between early-17th-century Protestants and Catholics as keenly as the book’s original English audience might, the book is nevertheless a fast-moving adventure.
This middle volume doesn’t really set up the (nearly) explosive climax to come but is replete with chases and escapes. (Historical fiction. 11-13)