IN "Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon," award-winning fantasy writer Lisa Goldstein has peopled Elizabethan England with true historical characters, magical faeries and their opponents, and a memorable heroine, Alice Wood. The stories of these characters are woven into a tapestry of intrigue involving benevolent and malevolent forces vying for power.
Goldstein's London of the 1590s is authentic: a bustling center of commerce, politics, and art, and a magnet to scholars and entrepreneurs.
The reader rediscovers that marvelous cast of Reformation poets and playwrights - soon to be in the shadow of then-unknown Shakespeare - including mysterious Christopher Marlowe, breezy Thomas Nashe, and querulous Thomas Kyd.
In addition, the faerie courts of Queen Oriana and of her opponent, the red king, come to the city for their final, fateful showdown. Drawn into these affairs is Goldstein's sympathetic protagonist.
Goldstein favors strong women inhabiting cusps of history - in this case an intelligent widow, at the peak of England's Reformation with its sectarian and secular frictions and growing global perspective.
Alice's adventures pit her not only against fantastical forces and wicked spies, but also against the male bigotry and religious persecution of the day. Her profession as a bookseller and member of the Stationer's Company (guild) is unusual for a woman. After all, this was an age when an independent widow could be accused of being a witch for little more than knowing how to read the printed word.
When Alice learns that her missing son Arthur is sought by the Queen's agents for treason, and by other sinister agents for more shadowy reasons, she reluctantly joins a motley alliance of "Fair Folk" and sympathizers in an effort to be the first to find Arthur.
Is her son really an heir to the English throne? Or to the faerie throne? Or is there a different explanation for the swirl of treachery and magic that has enveloped her house - which is located near the wide yard of St. Paul's where the booksellers have their stalls - and indeed all of London?
The dialogue carries a faithful echo of Elizabethan accents without overtaking sense: "The world is changing, moving in a direction I cannot predict. The Fair Folk have a part to play in all this, but whether it is large or small I cannot say," says Alice's odd friend Margery.
The story reaches its climax in a battle that includes mortals and immortals - rivaling the best of C.S. Lewis's Narnia series - and leads to Alice's final reconciliation with herself. She learns that conventional black-and-white labels of good and evil do not necessarily apply in the faerie realms, and in the process finds new acceptance for her own unconventional identity.
Goldstein's writing is like a lucid painting, its plotline and characters built up in economical daubs until the whole scene is crammed with familiar faces. This book will interest readers of both history and fantasy and especially those who dream of seeing new vistas open through magical doors where none stood before.