Oh man, was this book fun. There’s simply no other way to put it. If you’re like me and are weak for enemies to lovers, Shakespeare, Elizabethan England, and anything having to do with spycraft, then this is the book for you.
The story follows two spies, Katherine and Toby, one trying to kill the queen as an act of revenge for killing her father, and the other trying to root out the conspirators of a new assassination plot against the queen. Set the stage for Shakespeare’s newest play, being performed for the queen—the perfect opportunity for a would-be killer, and both Katherine and Toby join the cast, Katherine hoping to get close enough to kill the queen, Toby needing to find the killer before the assassination plot comes to fruition. Oh, did I mention Toby and Katherine, masquerading as a boy named Kit because, you know, Elizabethan England, are playing love interests?
One of the things I loved most about this book was its weaving of Twelfth Night, the play the cast is performing and the one Katherine and Toby find themselves living. Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most convoluted, at times ridiculous, plays, and An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason managed to capture that spirit of the fanciful without becoming ridiculous, in part because of brilliant nuances of Katherine and Toby’s inner conflicts and doubts regarding the paths they’d been set on and in part because of the author’s brilliant historical research. The atmosphere of this book was incredible, I truly believed all of this happened in Elizabethan England and that I was living there, everything from the clothing to the architecture to the customs was so well done, and as a massive history nerd (and a history minor) with a soft spot for Shakespeare’s London, I was thrilled and impressed.
Aside from the historical touches and atmosphere, Katherine and Toby were what really captured my heart. The two of them had such rich inner thoughts, Katherine torn between loyalty to her father, the conspirators who have taken her in, her upbringing as a Catholic in a very Protestant England and what she knows in her heart to be right as well as the new life and independence she’s found as the boy Kit, Katherine delved into the struggles of blood family versus found family, gender in a very patriarchal society, religious freedom, as well as who she is and what being a killer would demand of her. Toby is equally complex, struggling with unresolved feelings for his dead mentor, hiding his bisexuality in a world where it’s illegal, and being trapped in a life he no longer wants. The two of them individually and together are beautiful, charming, resilient, and ultimately hopeful. Oh, and did I mention they’re true enemies to lovers, on opposite sides with conflicting loyalties and biases, and outside forces they need to overcome before they can be together and not just bickering-for-no-reason enemies?
An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason is a criminally underrated book of mistaken identities, intrigue, star-crossed love, and betrayal, and more than that, a book of finding hope, freedom, identity, and yes, love, all tangled in Shakespeare’s theatre. It’s a love letter to Twelfth Night and Viola’s ability to break from societal conventions to find freedom, the person she wants to be, and the person she wants to be, a love letter that gets to the true heart of the play—shedding the masks of the people we were expected to be in order to become the people we were born to be.