Customer Reviews: Armor of Light, The
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on August 22, 1998
This is the best work of historical fantasy, and one of the best works of historical fiction, which I have ever read. Although the universe (an alternate history Elizabethan England where magic works and where Sydney and Marlow survived the events which killed them in our time line) is fantasy, the approach is basic science fiction "what if", extrapolated on a magical rather than physcial technology. Rather than overlaying modern concepts of magic onto their characters and history, the authors present magic as it was understood by the various classes of Tudor England, and in so doing create a world that feels like reality and avoid the one-dimensionality common to much contemporary fantasy. All this, and a great read, too.
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on June 20, 2001
This is a very well-structured, well-written book set in an alternate version of Queen Elizabeth I's reign. The settings are finely drawn, the characters are engaging, and the plot is gripping. I reread this book about once a year just for the pleasure of it, and I snapped up this hardcover when it came out. If you like alternate history and fantasy, and don't mind them mixed together, read this book. If you just want to read about people living in Elizabethan England, read this book. And if you just have to have any book with Shakespeare as a character... you, too, have some reading ahead of you.
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on March 11, 1999
I'm the cover illustrator, and I don't always like everything I read. Often, even if I liked a story the first time, I don't like it when I have to read it about the fifth time to check on the color of someone's shirt. Or I start noticing the lapses in historical detail or logic or characterization.
This book I still read for pleasure, even after I finished the cover. I read a lot of alternate history, and this surely ranks among the best.
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on June 12, 2014
I have long been a fan of Melissa Scott's original take on SF&F, and this was one of her first forays into the historical fantasy genre and a complete success: a very original story both engaging, full of great historical references for the history lover and a highly recommended page-turner even for people like me who know next to nothing about the Elizabethan period!

Indeed, all her collaborations with Lisa A. Barnett (see also the on-going Astreiant series) are excellent, but this one book may very well be my favorite, populated with lots of interesting and realistically depicted historical figures in a slightly alternate universe, and I just realized that it is finally available as an ebook! It even has a new, nice cover which is both reminiscent of the original paperback cover but of better quality overall and manages to be quite appropriate to the storyline, which is always a plus.

I was so happy to see it in digital format that I snatched it right away so I can now re-read it on my Kindle whenever I want: it is very encouraging to see some older, more (unfairly) obscure works being digitalized, not just the latest shallow bestsellers!

Hopefully, we'll see A Choice of Destinies in digital format next? Hint, hint...
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on November 14, 2014
Excellent and interesting spin on an alternate Elizabethan world. Loved it. The writing is top-notch, and I have always been fascinated by Elizabeth's reign. This brings the actual personages to life. Who and what they might have really been makes fascinating reading.
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on November 16, 2013
I first read this book when it originally came out twenty five years ago and I loved it. I still do. Not many books stand up to rereading twenty five years later, but The Armor of Light is still wonderful. This is historical fantasy at its best! It's rich, nuanced, and the plot is intriguing. And this is the best Christopher Marlowe I've read in fiction, hands down!
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on December 3, 2014
Complex, full of wit, dark humour, betrayal and high politics - this is a thrilling read that evokes the dichotomy of the Elizabethan Age perfectly. At once highly moral, adventurous, and powerful - but also full of magic, cowardice and dastardly deeds, the story is replete with all variety of twists and turns and features a host of the times' most prominent figures.

I couldn't put this down - intrigue-packed barely describes it.
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on November 27, 2008
As many other alternative history works of fiction this book is set in England during the reign of Elizabeth the Great. It was the brightest and yet the most putrid age of British history, a time when history itself could have changed its course: it did, but unfortunately only to a certain extent.
It cannot be a mere chance that so many authors choose this age for their alternative history novels: so many opportunities to make the western world a different place have been wasted then.
(One could add, cursorily, that many fantasy novels seem to be set in an Elizabethan-like kingdom).

These authors seem to have done their research. They give many details about everyday life but they do not overindulge, except perhaps where clothes are concerned; every other real life reference is functional to plot and characterization, not a mean feat indeed.

The plot is interesting, sensible, well contrived. Characters are not as satisfying: Elizabeth is adorable (for a harridan) but everyone else is either shallow or unremarkable or inconsistent or obnoxious for some reason. Sidney is far to obsessed with his protestant faith to be likeable; Marlowe, it goes without saying, could have been a great character but he is such only at times; James is not too bad. All the others play choir when they should have been side kicks. Villains are essentially non existent so that the main characters' very personal demons end by being more interesting.

Writing is professional but not distinguished: several passages are rich of humour or interesting in some way, but there are also problems: the constant shift of POV never signalled by a new paragraph; the constant shift of language register within the same utterance of the same character; some inconsistencies; a wrong use of pluralis maiestatis; some outright grammar mistakes.

Marlowe is a gay character (James is too even if he seems devout to Queen Anne) so gay sex is mentioned but never graphically. The book can be considered safe for teens but I doubt many of them will be interested in the several moral and metaphysical digressions.

This is a nice read, enjoyable and out of print: I recommend you buy it if you find it in some second hand bookstore.
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on October 7, 2011
Armor of Light, TheThis nifty little novel assumes that magic in Elizabethan times worked exactly like Elizabethans thought it did, that devils are real and spells efficacious (and some folks thought witches weren't necessarily in league with them).

Oh, and in this novel Sir Philip Sidney and Christopher Marlowe aren't dead (well, yet). Sir Philip survived his wounds in the Netherlands and was therefore alive to save Marlowe from that knife in the tavern (a foiled assassination attempt).

The authors, Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett, have a pretty good understanding of Elizabethan history and culture, and it shows. You can smell danger just where you should (non-magical danger, that is; I have no experience with magic, so I couldn't say), courtiers are trying to get influence (or laid), Catholics are out of favor in a dangerous way and life is pretty miserable all around. In this uncertain time, Elizabeth's horoscopist predicts the beheading of her successor, touching off Sir Philip's trip to Scotland to see James safe from magical threats.

Complicated? You bet. Detailed? Yup. Fun for Elizabethan geeks? Absolutely.

Did I mention Marlowe is a spy?

The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett is published by NESFA Press, who bring you people like Terry Pratchett.
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on June 10, 2011
I discovered this book in its first printing, and The Armor of Light forever lit my interest in historical fantasy. Together, Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett pulled off a triple-crown performance by writing an Elizabethan Age fantasy novel in which the magic felt real and period-specific, the historical details, right down to the proper descriptions for clothing and the habits of the day, felt right and natural, and the story, really about the shaping of a king, took flight on the wings of great personal dramas.

There is so much fun to be had in this book (the scene where Mephistopheles tempts Christopher Marlow is priceless), and the intrigue and political maneuverings will be enough for anybody who likes the historical in historical fantasy. The co-authors do a good enough job on the characters that even readers completely unfamiliar with most of the dramatis personae will enjoy getting to know them. While it is a little slow in places, the layered plotting and personal dramas demand a leisurely pace, and there is plenty of conflict and danger to carry it along. The magic is Elizabethan magic, depending on virtues and correspondences and inseparable from the magical and religious practices of the day. It is a treat on all levels.

The full review can be found on my blog, Marion Harmon, A Writer in Vegas.
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