This Thing of Darkness

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Pub Date May 03 2022 | Archive Date Feb 28 2022

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History tells us that William Shakespeare died in April of 1616.

Or did he?

What if the “William Kemp” who set sail from England for the New World in April of 1619 was actually the bard in disguise?

How would he adjust to life in the Virginia Colony? How would he interact with the Powhatans?

And what if he was forced to do battle with a monster out of legend?

This is the story of Shakespeare’s second life.

History tells us that William Shakespeare died in April of 1616.

Or did he?

What if the “William Kemp” who set sail from England for the New World in April of 1619 was actually the bard in...

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ISBN 9781637898277
PRICE $14.99 (USD)

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Average rating from 6 members

Featured Reviews

It might not be a Shakespeare play, but it certainly is entertaining. A father, his dark-skinned bastard son, and a transgender woman find themselves as allies as they travel from England to the new world. There they find that their so precious new beginning will not be as easy as they thought. Besides the monsters inside each of their neighbors, a creature hunts the land. A hungry beast hunting anyone who would stay outside after dark.
The book certainly offers an interesting view of the Virginia colony. And how a non-puritan with his ideas and newfound family could not live as carefree as they would want. A fantastic tale about love, family, and the power to be willing to do whatever is necessary to protect your happiness.

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This had a very cheesy look to it. It made me expect something along the lines of Will Shakespeare, the Monster Slayer. I’ve never heard of the author, the official description of the book was minimalistic and the cover is…well, kinda corny, isn’t it?
Which is to say, there was absolutely nothing to prepare me for how good of a read this turned out to be and how much fun.
So, what’s a man to do in the early 1600s when he gets tired of it all…the fame, the creditors, the married life? Why, set off for a new world, of course. With an illegitimate son by a black prostitute in tow, no less. At the very least, it’ll be an adventure.
Along the way, Will acquires a companion named Margaret, a very large and strong man leading life as a woman.
The unusual, by local standards anyway, trio arrives in Jamestown and proceeds to set up a life, only to find it threatened on several ends…by angry locals, Powhatans Natives and a strange carnivorous creature that stalks the land. That’s like Jack Reacher amounts of crap, too much to deal with for an aging and tired bard and yet…to the occasion he shall rise.
This is that story. Well told. With terrifically engaging characters rendered with warmth and surprising realism, where descending into caricatures would have been so easy. With vivid descriptions and humorous banter and bookboombastic action scenes. Such a good story. Way to make colonial America exciting. This book was tons of fun. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.

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THIS THING OF DARKNESS by Allan Batchelder is a high concept novel if I've ever heard one: What if William Shakespeare faked his death and tried to make a new life in Jamestown? It's an interesting promise that I am arguably spoiling a bit of a reveal but is the chief reason to pick up this fascinating novel. Its title and events certainly give this the appearance of a horror novel but it also works very well as a character study. I am happy to recommend it without further bringing any elements of its plot in on the basis of its research and authenticity of human feeling. Which is not something I normally say about a monster stalking a bunch of English settlers.

The premise, as quirky as it may be, is something that is grounded by "William Kemp" whose true identity is something that the story eases into but leaves plenty of clues to from the beginning. William has his reasons for wanting to fake his death and flee England that we gradually discover through the judicious use of flashbacks but the point is that he is not someone who easily fits into the ranks of the new colony.
Partially due to the reasons that he fled, partially due to his high intellect, his irreligiosity (mostly expressed in a lack of interest in regular churchgoing--a horrible offense then), and his fear of being discovered, he lives at the edge of the community. He makes association with other outcasts, though, and forms his own little community that leaves him content for a time.

There is something out there in the woods, though, and William's imagination draws parallels between Grendel and his own Caliban, especially when signs that it's a kind of cannibalistic monster. Is it a werewolf, 16th century serial killer, troll, or something wholly new? The locals, as you can imagine, are quick to blame the local Powhatan. Even William is skeptical of his own mind at work when he notes that a perhaps more likely explanation is some of the released criminals at work in the colony combined with the victims' bodies being feasted on by animals postmortem.

If I were to make an odd comparison, this reminds me a bit of the John Cussack Edgar Allan Poe movie, The Raven, except much better. That movie suffered from making its titular celebrity the center of the murders as well as forced into their investigation. Here William is a reluctant detective and doesn't have any skill at it but is moved by the fact it personally threatens him as well as those people he cares about. I appreciate all the effort Allan Batchelder takes to humanizing the Bard with his regrets over his failed marriage, relationship with a prostitute named Luca, and the jokes of plagiarism made about him.

This is the rare book I state is just extremely good from start to finish and is one that benefits extremely from its prose. While not William Shakespeare himself, he manages to create a believable enough man that could theoretically come up with England's greatest plays. A somewhat roguish man but never so much as to be unbelievable for the time period. A somewhat darker and more morose version of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE's take on the Bard perhaps. The supporting cast is solid too and I cared enough about them to want to see whether they became monster chow.

Highly recommended.

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Despite the deliciously absurd premise (Shakespeare, having faked his death in England, goes to the Virginia colony and, with a black teenager and a transgender woman, fights a monster in the woods), this book was wonderfully lovable. Batchelder, like Shakespeare, knows that one of the key tips to writing a good story is to create well-rounded and relatable characters, and he does so with excellence here. Everyone from Will, with his poetic turns of phrase and his long-held regrets, to the most minor of side characters felt like a living individual. I especially loved Margaret, the strong-muscled yet softhearted transgender woman, and how easily Will accepted her as a friend and eventually as found family. After all, if anyone from 1600-ish England would be cool with people not adhering to gender roles, surely it would be Shakespeare!

The horror aspect of the monster in the woods was effectively creepy without being too gory for me, and I liked how Will and his companions approached the threat as a mystery to solve and a trap to set rather than just an all-out battle. Shakespeare fans will appreciate Batchelder's many references to lines from plays and sonnets—probably there were far more of them than I even detected—and fans of historical fiction will savor the richness of the setting, the Virginia colony that was still almost entirely native territory and beautiful wilderness.

This would be a good read for YA or maybe even MG on up, as long as teens or parents don't mind a smattering of curse words (though really, it's nothing they haven't already heard on the internet). An exciting and endearing story!

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Historical Fiction submerged in, shall I say a thrilling fantasy or a fantastical thriller, makes quite the mix and that is the bait, which I feel, gives this author's work a good hook to lure young teenage readers to peruse its pages. A monster or monsters are thrown in for good measure - who would have thought it or they mixed well with the history of true life events! The niche in time of history takes us back to April 1619 and a voyage from London and the landing upon New World soil in Jamestown, Virginia, with a few glitches back to recent-ish years leading up to this voyage and scenario.

Unusual bedfellows are Will - the dead man, Margaret - the man dressed as a woman, and Will's supposed son Xander of African gene pool descent. Life in the New World was not easy but it was a varietable, unending, of almost more-than-one-could-chew adventure, what with Powahtans on one side, a monster or more, and enemies of unknown number or face, lurking, just plain survival of the fittest, was essential. The characters never knew what would descend upon them next. Will had a few aces up his sleeve though and with Margaret and Xander as co-conspirator cohorts, they just might stand a chance.

It may be wise to have some parental guidance due to some gruesome descriptions of death and carnage. Much of the story is believeable except of course, the monster bits. Ha, ha. Then, again, I felt hints of allegory in the prose that could well relate to human nature with this thing of darkness casting a forboding aura of prescence. That could just be me. Others may have other interpretation or just read the book at face value. Give it a go and see for yourself.

Another thing I'm happy about is that the author mentions, through Will, how appalling and unpardonable slavery is and how unthinkable that such practices had reached the New World.

The end of the book has some mention of the real facts regarding the voyage of the George and other true events and people of those times, which I find good to know especially when reading Historical Fiction. Being able to know which is actual fact and which is fiction at least gets one to learn something from reading a book, yet in a more exciting manner.

~Eunice C., Reviewer/Blogger~

February 2022

Disclaimer: This is my honest opinion based on the complimentary review copy sent by NetGalley and the publisher.

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