Summary and book reviews of Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly

Dark Aemilia

A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady

By Sally O'Reilly

Dark Aemilia
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  • Hardcover: May 2014,
    448 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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Book Summary

The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth's royal court. The Queen's favorite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.

A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will - or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself.

In rich, vivid detail, Sally O'Reilly breathes life into England's first female poet, a mysterious woman nearly forgotten by history. Full of passion and devilish schemes, Dark Aemilia is a tale worthy of the Bard.

Scene I

Whitehall, March 1592

'The Queen!'

'The Queen comes! Lights, ho!'

It is night, and a Thames mist has crept over Whitehall, so the great sprawl of the palace is almost hid from sight.

'Bring lights!' come the voices again, and the doors of the great hall are flung open, and a hundred shining lanterns blaze into the foggy night, and serving men rush out, torches aflame, to show the way.

And here she is, great Gloriana, and a light comes off her too, as she progresses towards the wide entrance and its gaggle of waiting gentlemen, and the Master of the Revels puffing on the steps. There never was a mortal such as she. Behind her is the moving tableau of her ladies, silver and white like the nymphs of Nysa. Beyond them, the spluttering torches and the night sky. She is set among the fire-illuminated faces like a great jewel, so that as I look at her I blink to save my sight. Her face is white as bone, her lips the colour of new-spilt blood. Her eyes, dark ...

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About this Book

Dark Aemilia
is the story of a real woman who overcame adversity to become the first female poet to be published professionally in England. The action takes place in the uncertain period at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I and the beginning of Stuart rule. London is violent and fraught with danger, but also a magnet for anyone who wants to succeed and pursue their dreams.

Aemilia falls in love with William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright of all time, but she also has ambitions for her own work. And when her son Henry is born, her love for him makes her all the more determined to impose her will on a world that sees women as the servants and sexual playthings of men. But who are the three sinister women ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

This is first and foremost a story of passion and witchcraft. It is also a fascinating exploration of the trials and tribulations of Elizabethan life from a woman's perspective. From start to finish, Dark Aemilia is beautifully written, ripe and vivid. It is historically astute — fictional certainly, but entertaining and credible, cleverly using the little that is known about Shakespeare to give Aemilia a dramatic, engaging life of her own.   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

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Media Reviews
O, The Oprah Magazine

Seductive, sharp-witted lady-in-waiting Aemilia Bassano, who later becomes known as England’s first published female poet, falls into a love affair with the Bard himself, loses favor with the court, and resorts to black magic and sorcery to save her child in this textured work of historical fiction.

The New York Post

We all know Shakespeare wrote love sonnets. Now, O’Reilly’s new novel brings us the Bard’s sonnet-writing lover and sonnet-inspiring muse

Publisher Weekly

O'Reilly casts her story with witches, doomed royals, evil courtiers, and star-crossed lovers, as if it were a Jacobean play. But her finest accomplishment is not the tribute she pays to these historical figures, but the bold imagination she displays in bringing them together.

Library Journal

With elegant style, masterly wordplay, and an eye for historical detail, O'Reilly beautifully relates a passionate and tragic love story, worthy of two such well-known figures.

Booklist

Though some of O’Reilly’s suppositions feel like reaches—particularly Aemilia’s involvement with Macbeth—this is a lively, vividly rendered novel about the dramatic life of an extraordinary woman.

Author Blurb Paula Brackston, New York Times bestselling author of The Witch's Daughter and The Midnight Witch
I loved this book! Dark Aemilia wears its expert research lightly and is filled with all the passion, drama, and magic of Elizabethan England. Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Anne Fortier, author of The Lost Sisterhood and the New York Times bestseller, Juliet
Dark Aemilia is a magical, ravishing literary masterpiece. Sally O'Reilly is an outstanding storyteller, at once devilish and divine, and her unique, sparkling prose makes every paragraph a delight.

Author Blurb Sena Jeter Naslund, bestselling author of Ahab's Wife; Adam & Eve; and The Fountain of St. James Cour; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman
Sally O'Reilly's novel provides a gorgeous gush of words: earthy, brilliant, succulent. Her scenes give us juicy berries and bloody meat to eat. When did we last savor such a substantial feast? ... Hats off to Sally O'Reilly!

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Who Was Shakespeare's Dark Lady?

Despite possibly being the most famous and applauded writer that has ever lived, very little about William Shakespeare is known for certain. There are few contemporary accounts and the portraits that are generally held to be of him were all painted long after his death. His name is spelled differently in the few copies of his signature that survive. Although is he believed to have married Anne Hathaway and fathered three children with her, next to nothing is known of his private life in the eight years he spent in London while his family remained in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is not certain in which order he wrote his plays or even how many there were. His authorship of the plays is also questioned, as is his sexuality, particularly because of...

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