Allison Epstein

The Devil and the Rose by Allison Epstein

We open in 1585. England. Cambridge, to put a finer point on things. Queen Elizabeth is at the height of her reign. Threats from Catholic conspirators—foreign and domestic—lurk unspoken behind every word. And an irreverent, ambitious graduate student named Christopher “Kit” Marlowe finds himself summoned from his dormitory and ushered into a locked office.

Within, he finds a calculating, hard-eyed stranger—Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster. And Walsingham has come with a proposition.

The Devil and the Rose, complete at about 90,000 words, dives deep into the world of Elizabethan espionage, following Kit as he embarks on a mission to sniff out plots of regicide and rebellion while undercover in the service of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.

As Kit soon discovers, he has a knack for lying, developed over years of writing poetry—and of keeping his newly understood homosexuality a secret. But as he descends deeper into a tangled web of coded letters, false identities, and threatening war, he quickly discovers that espionage is much more than he bargained for.

Resenting and fearing the helplessness of a life directed by the crown, Kit forcibly carves out safe spaces for himself. He clings to his relationship with fellow scholar Tom Watson, and to his rising star in the world of London theater. But around him is a world steadily falling to chaos, where queens clash for supremacy, every smile hides a knife at the ready—and the threat posed by enemies is nothing compared to that posed by friends.


The Book Doctors: We’re suckers for Elizabethan espionage, preferably featuring Mary, Queen of Scots.  And if we can get Christopher Marlowe thrown in, all the better.  There’s so much fun stuff in this pitch.  Like the fact that his knack for lying has been developed over years of writing poetry. We laughed when we read that.  And his closeted gayness gives lots of opportunity for drama, pathos and humor.  The writing has a wonderful panache and style, which makes us feel comfortable believing that you can actually pull this off. We like being taken into the world of Marlowe as he becomes a rising star of London theater, while behind the scenes, a Game of Thrones courtly spying death match is happening. But we find ourselves wanting more word pictures that show us you are going to be able to create that world in a way we haven’t seen before.  We want to know more about the relationship between our hero and the scholar, Tom Watson, or cut it.  And there needs to be more specifics about the villain in the piece, who seems to be rather absent. And we need to know more about the specifics of the plot, the fun, scary, deadly, crazy images, characters and plot twists which are going to keep us on the edge of our doublets and pantaloons. We would cut the words “We open in”.  Because in a pitch every word is sacred, every word is blessed, every word is absolutely vitally crucially important.  You probably don’t need the words: “to put a finer point on things.”  Get us to the characters, get us to the action.  Don’t tell us about Queen Elizabeth, because we’ve been told about her many many many times before.  Show her to us in a new light.  We don’t know what kind of threats are coming from the Catholics, we want you to show that to us.  And we don’t want you to tell us that our hero is irreverent and ambitious, we want to fall in love with him when you show us what a brilliant cheeky monkey he is.   We hate to sound like a broken record, but the fact there are no comparable titles has the effect of breaking our record.  Do people even use that phrase anymore?  There are no more records.  It freezes our screen.  How about that?  This is a really fun story about a great era that holds lots of interest to lots of people, with a fascinating iconic superstar playwright who died tragically young at the center of it.  Needs more visual touches, more specifics about the court intrigue and the deadly plot.


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