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.
Whitehall, March 1592
'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 ...
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).
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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