Exit, Pursued By a Bear

Greer Gilman  - published September 2014

saddle-stitched paperback, 9781618730954 · ebook, 9781618730961

Ben Jonson has written the part of a lifetime for the Prince of Wales:  he will play Oberon, the King of Faerie. It’s only theater. What could go wrong?

Welcome to Ben Jonson’s second adventure, courtesy of none other than Greer Gilman. Her first exceptional Jonson adventure, Cry Murder! in a Small Voice, was a Shirley Jackson Award winner. As with Cry Murder!, Exit is available as both a print chapbook and as an ebook.

Exit, Pursued By a Bear

Henry Stuart, heir to the British throne, is everything he should be; clever, handsome, a real hero. Unfortunately, he is also tone-deaf in his dealings with the Unseen World. Unbeknownst to him, his ambitious plans for a coming-of-age court masque taking Faerie as its subject have enraged his neighbor monarchs, Oberon and Titania, who perceive in Henry’s theatrical project a slight to their authority.

Seeking recompense, they assign the undead poet Kit Marlowe a task peculiarly suited to his wild imaginative powers: to bring them the heir to the throne, and rewrite the course of human history.

As supernatural storm clouds gather, the poet Ben Jonson must struggle both to execute the masque-commission set him by Prince Henry, and investigate the trail of unsettling events that has begun to surround rehearsals with a sinister and uncanny aura.

Actors go missing, the special effects can’t be counted on, and of course Henry would insist on a chariot pulled by live bears, but more worryingly: what are these dreams which shake royal performers and professional actors alike? Can Ben work out their portents in time, or will Kit Marlowe have the last laugh, after all?

For the bears, in septentriones sempiterne.*

Review

“The play’s the thing. . . . There’s no doubt from the opening page that Gilman (Cry Murder! in a Small Voice) understands how to write period-accurate dialogue, but it limits the appeal to those who deal regularly in the Elizabethan tongue. While there are clever puns worthy of Shakespeare, most readers will find it a lot of work to mull them over, and ostensible protagonist Jonson is upstaged by Marlowe’s tinkering, becoming more scenery than star except in one climactic moment.”
Publishers Weekly

An excerpt:

At Whitehall, St. Stephen’s Day, 1610

Halfway in the air, the moon stuck fast.
“Boy,” said the Surveyor, wearily.
But already a fellow in a satyr’s netherstocks had swarmed the scaffolding with five or seven of his rout, all twitching at the shrouds.
And now she toppled on her back, lay hicketing and heaving toward an exaltation endlessly denied.
Ben Jonson–mere Poet to these Roman pomps–snorted.  “I wrote her for a virgin; see, she labors.” . . .

Cover by Kathleen Jennings.

Greer Gilman’s mythic fictions Moonwise and Cloud & Ashes: Three Winter’s Tales have (between them) won the Tiptree, World Fantasy, and Crawford Awards, and have been shortlisted for the Nebula and Mythopoeic awards. Besides her two books, she has published other short work, poetry, and criticism. Her essay on “The Languages of the Fantastic” appears in The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature. A graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Cambridge, and a sometime forensic librarian at Harvard, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She likes to quip that she does everything James Joyce ever did, only backward and in high heels.

* In the North stars eternally.

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