Back from the Backlist · Reviews

Back from the Backlist!! Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh

Owing to the onset of the PhD, I’ve been taking on fewer blog tours and cutting down on some of my reviewing commitments.

One of the upsides of this has been allowing me more time in my reading schedule to read backlist titles – books that have been on my shelf or on my radar for a while but that the constant need to review and feature newly released titles has led me to neglect. 

So, what better excuse for a new feature on the blog? Thus I bring you Back from the Backlist, an occasional review slot that I will be using to feature some favourite backlist titles. Titles that are in paperback, and are likely to be available from your library or nearest second-hand retailer, but that are just as deserving of your time and readerly attention as the shiniest of new releases!

So, without further ado, let’s get to that backlist!


TamburlaineIt is 1593 and London is a city on edge. Under threat from plague and war, strangers are unwelcome and severed heads grin from spikes on Tower Bridge.

Tamburlaine Must Die is the story of the last days of the playwright Christopher Marlowe, a man who dares to defy both God and state – and discovers that there are worse fates than damnation...

Louise Welsh was one of those authors who was frequently recommended to me but who, for some reason, I’d just never gotten around to reading.

So when I saw a copy of her novella, Tamburlaine Must Die, whilst browsing the second-hand section of a local bookshop, I decided it was high time to rectify that and picked up a copy. And I have to say I am SO glad I did because I think Tamburlaine Must Die might just be one of the best books I’ve read in 2019.

Set over the last few days of Christopher Marlowe’s life, this short sharp punch of a novella follows the doomed playwright as he attempts to find out who has been writing seditious pamphlets in his name, bringing him to the attention of dangerous enemies in an England bought to the edge of chaos by plague, war, and the ever-present danger of civil unrest.

Seamlessly blending known fact and hypothesised fiction, Welsh creates a compelling narrative. Her Marlowe is a fascinating character – furiously angry, forever doubting, endlessly witty, and dangerously brilliant. As a reader, you know that he is doomed from the beginning but his voice is so compelling, and his personality so seductive, that you’re with him no matter how complicit he is in his own destruction. Having read a number of Marlowe’s plays, I could hear his voice in Welsh’s portrayal – that furious genius that first beguiled me when I read Dr Faustus as an undergraduate. It’s a masterful study in the creation of a uniquely powerful voice.

Welsh also excels at her portrayal of the historical moment in Tamburlaine Must Die. Elizabethan England comes alive on the page. Her portrait of Marlowe’s London is a visual, vibrant, visceral delight. Every sight, sound, and smell is made immediate for the reader, from the hawkers plying their wares in the street, to the rotting stench of the heads lined up on Tower Bridge.

For a novella that comes in just shy of 150 pages, Tamburlaine Must Die packs a real punch to the gut. Visceral in its detail, this is not a novel for the faint-hearted. Seedy and saucy by turns, it doesn’t shy away from the violent undercarriage of the world it portrays.

But for those readers who are prepared to be swept up into Welsh’s Elizabethan metropolis, Tamburlaine Must Die offers a tantalising mix of passion and treachery, corruption and mistrust.

Masterfully written, with a taut, tense narrative, and a voice that you won’t soon forget, Tamburlaine Must Die is a must for anyone looking for a riveting slice of historical fiction that will grab you tight and won’t let go until the final turn of the page.

Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh is published by Canongate and is available from all good bookshops and online retailers, including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

4 thoughts on “Back from the Backlist!! Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh

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