Thankfully in Bayard's hands this formula actually results in a good book. He's added a few surprising twists at each stage, and created some interesting characters (some of whom I suspect we may see more of at some point). And for his historical character he's taken somehow a bit less overdone, choosing Thomas Harriot (astronomer, explorer, artist, mathematician, &c.), rather than Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Northumberland, or Walter Ralegh. This gives him a little bit more leeway (since there's so little we know about Harriot), which he uses to his advantage.
I had a tough time putting this one down once I'd gotten started. If you're a Bayard fan, don't miss it.