Thursday , February 29 2024
This dark and riveting tale of love, witchcraft and passion brings the Elizabethan age to vivid life.

Book Review: ‘Dark Aemelia’ by Sally O’Reilly

Dark Aemelia: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady is the sort of historic novel that lovers of the genre dream of. Its mix of fact and fiction is always plausible and exciting.

The tale posits a love affair between William Shakespeare and another real historical figure, Aemilia Bassano Lanyer. While in reality the “Dark Lady” who was Shakespeare’s muse and who inspired many of his sonnets is never named, Aemilia Lanyer has been suggested by scholars. She was a poet who was published at a time when women were not accepted as writers and in which women were, indeed, considered hardly more than empty-headed creatures intended to be used by men for whatever purpose they chose and where the best way a woman could survive was as the wife or consort of a successful man. Many of the characters in the story are real, and London itself is a vibrant and lively part of the story.  O’Reilly presents it in all its glory and its squalor: the glitter of the court, the enchantment of the stage, the muck of the streets and the hanging corpses and severed heads that were on display every day.

england In the midst of all this Aemilia and Shakespeare share a love affair that shatters Aemilia’s life when she becomes pregnant.  Her long-time lover, believing the child to be his, marries her off to a court musician to preserve her honor.  She and Shakespeare have parted by then over a misunderstanding, but they remain both each others’ greatest enemy and greatest love throughout the events of their lives, which include fame for him and bouts with witchcraft, near-death. triumph and defeat for Aemilia.

The element of the supernatural is woven into the story in a fascinating way. Certainly, for Aemilia the demons, witches and curses that affect her life are real. The ways that the belief in witchcraft impact the course of events is very real. People die in this novel because people believe that witches and demons exist and are rampant in the world. The dark aspects  of this story are worthy of Shakespeare himself.

This is a roaring story of love, sex, passion, motherhood, the plight of women in a world in which they have little power, and especially this one extraordinary woman who really was born out of her time: an intelligent, ambitious, curious woman with an immense capacity for love and a strong instinct for survival.  It is highly recommended.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.

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