Boy and girl in Shakespearean attire standing back to back

About the Book

Title: An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason
Published: 2018
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Cover Story: Shakespearian AF
BFF Charm: Yay x2
Talky Talk: Quoth He, Quoth She
Bonus Factors: Shakespeare, LGBTQA+
Relationship Status: History B(u)FFs

Cover Story: Shakespearian AF

I received a copy of An Assassin’s Guide To Love and Treason at BookExpo this year, and though I’m usually drawn to contemporary books, and this one is clearly NOT, I picked it up immediately based solely on its cover. It looked different, new, and exciting (even if the title is annoyingly similar to The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue). And A+ work on that title treatment. Really, this is all I can ask for in a good cover!

The Deal:

The year is 1601, and Lady Katherine’s father has just been murdered before her eyes for illegally practicing Catholicism and secretly harboring a Catholic priest in their home. Katherine knows her father was part of a secret, treasonous plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I, and as a wanted girl with nothing left to lose, she sets off to London to join the men her father was working with. Katherine wants more than revenge—she wants to kill the queen with her own two hands.

Meanwhile, in London, Toby is a wannabe writer-turned-dexterous spy working for the queen. He has intercepted coded letters and knows that a group of Catholics are plotting to kill the queen, so Queen Elizabeth I puts him in charge of finding her attempted assassins. He develops a plan to work with the city’s most popular playwright, William Shakespeare, to write a new play called Twelfth Night that will be performed in a private showing for the queen, baiting any would-be assassins to audition for the play and catching them in the act.

But when Katherine disguises herself as a boy named Kit and is cast in the play, things get tricky. Kit and Toby find themselves drawn to one another, which makes an already complicated plot all the more complex.

BFF Charm: Yay x2

2 BFF charms

Man, I really loved Katherine/Kit and Toby so much. Lady Katherine had lived a mostly sheltered life—she’d never seen or experienced much, because she was a Lady for crying out loud. But the moment her father is murdered, she jolts into action and never looks back. She is game for whatever: dressing as a boy, learning to fight, avenging her father’s death. I loved her courage and moxie, though I would’ve loved to see a little more of her struggle with all the things happening to her.

Toby was a little bit serious, which is necessary for a spy. He’s a survivor, he’s smart, he’s got secrets of his own that he must keep hidden to protect himself. That made it all the more entertaining when Kit was able to tempt a small smile or laugh from him.

And a bonus BFF charm goes out to the one and only William Shakespeare, who was a hilarious addition to this cast. I bet that guy was a riot IRL.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Okay, could this romance GET any more complicated? I think not. Toby is fairly open with the reader that he is bisexual, if not with the outside world. We know that as a pre-teen, he studied under the famous poet Christopher Marlowe. Toby loved Marlowe and has been heartbroken ever since Marlowe’s death. So when Katherine-disguised-as-Kit shows up to audition for the play, Toby is surprised at how drawn to Kit he is. (Reminder: it’s 1601, so anything other than heterosexuality is, uh, still frowned upon.) Meanwhile, Katherine is also drawn to Toby, and her disguise gives her confidence that she might not have otherwise.

So let’s review: Katherine doesn’t know that Toby is bisexual, and Toby doesn’t know that the boy he is attracted to, Kit, is actually a girl disguised as a boy playing the part of Viola, a female character in Twelfth Night who disguises herself as a boy named Cesario.

And this doesn’t even START to get into the whole mess of Katherine being the assassin that Toby has been assigned by the queen to catch.

All this to say: the romance is forbidden on about a million different levels here, and that in and of itself is enough to ratchet up the swoon points. But I also loved the playful way that Kit and Toby interacted, the subtle glances, the excuses to touch each other in rehearsal. It’ll make you Feel Things™.

Talky Talk: Quoth He, Quoth She

Boecker deftly alternates between Toby and Katherine/Kit’s points of view, which makes it fun to watch both sides as they make a step forward in their respective plots, or take a misstep in the wrong direction. The story itself is filled with clever historical details that anyone who loves history will revel in. That said, all the historical details sometimes slowed the plot. A murder plot against the queen, with mistaken identities and forbidden romance, should be a fast page turner, in my opinion. While An Assassin’s Guide To Love and Treason was a delightful read—a romp as mixed up as the Shakespeare plays it features—I did feel like it could’ve moved more quickly through the middle and given a little more time to the ending.

Bonus Factor: Shakespeare

Bust of William Shakespeare

Oh hunny, this isn’t your average Shakespeare retelling. This story is about the making of an actual Shakespeare play, and the Bard himself plays a role. And with the gender-swapping and murder-plotting, it was very reminiscent of Shakespeare’s comedies of error a la A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing.

There are lots of little Easter eggs for you Shakespeare fans, too. Just one example:

“If you’re here to interrogate me about the content of the play, rest assured. There’s nothing of politics in this one. Nothing but lovers and monkeys and Ganymedes; clowns and melancholy and mistaken identity. Nothing you can possibly object to. It’s just as you like it.”

Bonus Factor: LGBTQA+

Pride flag being waved in a parade

As previously mentioned, Toby’s bisexuality is something he has to keep to himself due to how completely shitty the past was. I personally don’t read enough historical fiction to know how prevalent LGBTQ themes are in that genre, but I loved seeing bisexual representation here.

Relationship Status: History B(u)FFs

To quote Christine McVie, Book, you make lovin’ learnin’ fun. You were an entertaining romp with an educational side, and you made me interested in history for the first time in a long time—even if your version of history is fictionalized. The next time I head off on a trip to London, I’m definitely packing you in my bag.

FTC Full Disclosure: This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. An Assassin’s Guide To Love and Treason will be available October 23, 2018.

Rosemary lives in Little Rock, AR with her husband and cocker spaniel. At 16, she plucked a copy of Sloppy Firsts off the "New Releases" shelf and hasn't stopped reading YA since. She is a brand designer who loves tiki drinks, her mid-century modern house, and obsessive Google mapping.