Dark Aemilia by Sally O’Reilly

Dark Aemilia by Sally O`Reilly(Cover picture courtesy of Vulpes Libris.)


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.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy of this book for the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I was really surprised at Dark Aemilia and I’m not really all that surprised when it comes to historical fiction anymore.  This truly is a tale of love and hate, revenge and kindness and the power of the written word.  Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes with dire consequences.

Aemilia herself is a fascinating lady: sh’`s mistress to a much older rich man at a very young age but then falls in love with a penniless playwright and poet.  Who is, of course, William Shakespeare.  The romance is quite tumultuous and although at first they both seem to hate each other (Aemilia hated The Taming of the Shrew) their love ends up being too strong and later turns to hate.  Aemilia is not always sympathetic, I’ll admit, but she is a fascinating character and you really do understand things from her point of view.  She has to make some harrowing choices that cost her almost everything, including very nearly her sanity.

What really surprised me about Dark Aemilia is not only Sally O’Reilly’s clear love of Shakespeare (for she incorporates his plays whenever she can) but her mastery of Old English.  This isn’t some pseudo-medieval dialogue, but rather some very authentic language that you would expect to find in documents from the time.  She even uses slang that was common in during the time, like ‘dugs’ and ‘chuck’.  Little historical details like this really bring the period to life.

The plot isn’t exactly fast-paced, but as I said it is interesting.  I couldn’t put this book down and was up until two in the morning to finish it because I had to know what happened to Aemilia.  The ending was quite sad but also satisfying because Aemilia never really changed.  She stayed true to herself and in the end got that measure of freedom she yearned for her whole life.  It`s a bittersweet ending because you think of what might have been, but Shakespeare was known for his tragedies so I guess it is quite fitting.

If you have ever admired or even read Shakespeare, I can’t recommend this book enough.  I absolutely loved it!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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