Dark Aemilia by Sally O’Reilly

Article published on July 23, 2015.

This is a first class historical fiction book set in the 16th Century. It focuses on a suggested lover of William Shakespeare called Aemilia Bassano, who lived 1569 – 1645 and was perhaps the Dark Lady of some of his sonnets. This is the period of the Plague of London, the death of Queen Elizabeth, Gunpowder plot and the first burning of the Globe Theatre during a performance of Henry V111. Aemilia married Alfonso Lanyer, a court musician, and was herself a poet.

The author was granted a scholarship to study for a PhD in Creative Writing and the book was produced as a result, so there is evidence of extensive research and historical notes and a glossary at the end.

Colourful accounts of the squalor and smells and crowded chaos of London at that time includes plague pits, death carts and plays at the Globe.

Aemilia emerges as a forerunner of a feminist – strong, intelligent, clever and brave and a fiercely protective mother of her sometimes wayward son (Shakespeare’s?) – and a confidante of the Queen.

I do not usually read historical fiction of the Tudor dynasty type, but this Elizabethan saga about Shakespeare and his possible mistress is entirely different – a glimpse into a different time, a different place and true human drama – which gripped me until the end.

It is well written and the plot is enhanced by the knowledge that the characters are historically accurate, although the story line is fiction. I thoroughly recommend it as an individual read, particularly if you like Shakespeare, and if your group fancies something set in this period, there are a multitude of issues to discuss.

Jan Jeffery

Personal read   4

Group read 4

Dark Aemilia by Sally O’Reilly is published in pbk by Myriad on April 23, 2015

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