License to Quill by Jacopo della Quercia is one part William Shakespeare, one part James Bond in Her Majesty’s Secret Service and all the rest of the parts complete and hilarious fun! Working for the spymaster and nobleman Thomas Walsingham, referred to as “W”, the spy and playwright Christopher Marlowe must disappear and so fakes his own death. In his stead steps the young playwright, William Shakespeare. Publicly known as London’s greatest writer, he is also its most accomplished spy. But after a dispute with his employer that landed him in the infamous Tower, Shakespeare finds himself on the outside of the spy game. Until one day a stranger comes to call. A man history will remember as Guy Fawke.
“…The playwright furrowed his brow and looked down to the parchment. As he reached for it, Guy Fawkes seized Shakespeare’s wrist. “Be careful who you share that with.” The man cautioned with a tightening grip.
William Shakespeare stared straight into Guy Fawkes eyes.
Beneath the table both men had their hands on their swords.
Without breaking eye contact, the Bard freed himself and took the paper. He unfolded it with one hand and examined it against his chest like a card player.
Double, double, toile and trouble;
Fire burne, and Cauldron bubble.
Shakespeare raised his eyebrows. “Your employer requires a play on the occult?”
“Not necessarily. All he requests is a tragedy set in Scotland covering the subjects we discussed. However you treat the stranger side of pagan history is entirely up to you. All we ask is that a group of witches say these lines at some point in the drama.”
“Witches?” Shakespeare repeated.
“Yes. Three of them…”
Knowing this for being far more than the offer to write a new play. Shakespeare knows it to be an act of subversion against the crown and goes back to his old employer, W, to inform the spymaster on what he has found. The Bard is returned to service in the Ordnance Office, now referred to as the Double-O, Shakespeare must protect the crown from the act of rebellion that Fawke and his crew plan. But the Bard finds out that it goes back further than Fawke, to an people that have lived on the Island far longer than any Londoner.
All this while he pens the play that would become; Macbeth.
To say this is just an irreverent tale meshing the character of Bond and the Secret Service and taking it back to the time of Shakespeare and making him Bond is to simply tip the iceberg of this novel. Jacopo della Quercia is not satisfied with simply doing that, no what he does instead is to write a historical thriller, melding humor, intrigue and international espionage with the backdrop of one of the most turbulent times in European history. When Britain was split between Protestant and Catholic and the attempted insurrection of Fawkes as he planned to bomb the Parliament building. Throw in some murdered Popes, lady assassins, a forgotten cult and love won and lost by the greatest writer in English history and you will begin to get a grasp of the grand scope that della Quercia chose to undertake. Only he didn’t just undertake it, no he mastered it.
License to Quill, is in my hopes, the beginning of William Shakespeare’s foray into espionage. This book is not to be missed by fans of Shakespeare, fans of James Bond and fans of just damn good story telling. So pick it up and sit back and read a novel about cloak and dagger espionage, from a time when the spy actually wore a cloak and carried a dagger.