In The Dangerous Kingdom of Love, lawyer, politician and philosopher Francis Bacon struggles to advance his place at the court of James I.
Bacon, in his own telling, is world-weary, cynical, but also fired by conviction. This is a court and a nation where he believes intellect is despised, and nothing is valued but noble birth or beauty. The king, meanwhile, only has eyes for his lover, Robert Carr, who is happily plotting against anyone he sees as a threat, including Bacon.
Bacon thinks he has an ingenious solution – to find another beautiful young man who can supplant Carr, who will be clever enough to blend in at court and manipulate the king, and yet remain steadfastly loyal to Bacon’s interests. What could possibly go wrong?
The Dangerous Kingdom of Love is such fun. Bacon’s voice is defiantly irreverent and (post)-modern. From railing against the excesses and absurdities of the court, to bitching about Shakespeare, to anticipating how the world will change (not least because of his own writings) it is witty, arch and satirical. There are lots of sly allusions to our present predicament (I won’t spoil them for you) and a vivid sense of the oddity of the court (a historical note from the author confirms that the most unlikely anecdotes are true).
Despite that, it doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the age and the jeopardy of becoming too close to the court. It also, poignantly, highlights the sadness in Bacon’s life, not just in his fluctuating fortunes but the loneliness of the outsider, the way he is so clever in seeing into the souls of others but has a blind spot when it comes to his own.
In this portrayal, Bacon is deeply conflicted. He believes in the law and justice, but engages in underhand schemes. He rails against the vapidity and vanity of the court, yet he can’t resist the lure of power and patronage. He can procure a male lover for the king, but his own attraction to men could mean a death sentence.
Bacon discusses his own ideas and writings as he tells the story, almost in passing, with a light, playful touch. And as with all the best historical fiction, reading The Dangerous Kingdom of Love has made me want to learn more about the real Francis Bacon.
I received a copy of The Dangerous Kingdom of Love from the publisher via Netgalley.
View The Dangerous Kingdom of Love on Goodreads.