Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Formats: eBook, Hardcover
Source: Publisher via Historical Fiction Book Tours for an honest review
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.
Selected by O, The Oprah Magazine as one of 17 Books You Won't Be Able To Put Down!
My Take:Dark Aemilia is just an amazing book! I absolutely love the cover art. So beautiful. The writing is just as beautiful. The reader is first introduced to Aemilia in the prologue - so intriguing and foreshadows some of the events to come. I thought it set the tone for the book quite well.
When the story begins, Aemilia is one of the women of Queen Elizabeth's court. She is the mistress of Lord Hundson and well educated. She is to attend a play that Will Shakespeare has written - The Taming of the Shrew. Aemilia takes exception to the way Shakespeare has written Katherine and tells him so in a series of letters between herself and the playwright. Their correspondence leads to a passionate affair. Things quickly get away from her. This seems to be a recurring theme with her -- her passions get the best of her. Aemilia becomes pregnant and in the book it is assumed to be Will's child. Because of her situation as a mistress, she is married off to Alfonso, a recorder player in the Queen's court. Poor Aemilia, always having her life controlled by men - as are all women's lives. But Aemilia doesn't take this very well. She is rebellious, intelligent and curious. She feels righteous indignation at her situation and this leads to some extreme choices.
Dark Aemilia portrays Aemilia as the inspiration for the poems to the Dark Lady by Shakespeare; there is no evidence that this is the case, but she is one of the candidates for the muse as well as one of the first women to have her poetry published professionally. These make her a good option for the role as Dark Lady. I loved that Aemilia is just as smart as the men and a determined writer who longs to improve herself and her writing.
The story is full of the sights, sounds and smells of London of the period, including the fear of witches, sorcery, demons, plague, childbirth, and death in all its forms. Aemilia and her servant Joan, have some dark dealings and the episodes are wonderfully written so that it hard to tell if it all really happened as Aemilia tells it or if the events are part of fever dreams and delirium caused by the plague and emotional exhaustion. The book is beautifully dark and filled with the anxiety of haunted and uncertain souls living in such precarious and volatile times.
I enjoyed Dark Aemilia so much. I can enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who is interested in Shakespeare, Elizabethan England, King James, witchcraft, women's history. While feminism didn't exist at the time, Aemilia has been called a proto-feminist and I think this book does a good job of representing these ideas within the time.
Praise for Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady"A gripping novel that gives feisty feminist voice to the unknown woman who inspired Shakespeare’s sonnets… O’Reilly brings her star-crossed lovers together and drives them apart through plot twists that are, for once, credible outgrowths of the characters’ personalities and beliefs, finally giving them a tender, heartbreaking parting. First-rate historical fiction: marvelously atmospheric and emotionally engaging."—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"[Dark Aemilia] mesmerizes with its descriptions of the Bard’s London…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."—Publishers Weekly
"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. With Shakespeare’s 450th birthday approaching this April, fans of historical fiction writers such as Philippa Gregory, Anne Easter Smith, and Tracy Chevalier won’t want to miss this one." —Library Journal
"O’Reilly’s American debut is an imaginative take on the life of poet Aemilia Layner, a contemporary of William Shakespeare…. This is a lively, vividly rendered novel about the dramatic life of an extraordinary woman."—Booklist
"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."—O, The Oprah Magazine
"I just finished this, and I’m jumping at this opportunity to recommend it to book lovers far and wide… Dark Aemilia is a must-read for all lovers of Shakespeare and old England, and while it is written from the perspective of a woman, I am confident men will enjoy it, too. I am usually careful with my books, but this one quickly became a victim of dog ears and pencil-marks, because O’Reilly touches on so many crucial historical moments and writes with such intelligent elegance." —Anne Fortier, BookPage
"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."—The New York Post
"Draped in the lure of magic and fantasy that weaved its way through many of Shakespeare’s plays, Dark Aemilia lives and breathes the late 16th century ….O’Reilly’s debut novel is a sweeping success, a tale full of action and intrigue and as deep as any ocean. Live vicariously through the eyes of one of the first proto-feminists to have lived. See as the author steps into her head and creates a world that is more realistic than the one outside your window. Let this book redefine the way you see love."—Bookreporter
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About the AuthorSally O'Reilly has received numerous citations for her fiction, which has been shortlisted for the Ian St James Short Story Prize and the Cosmopolitan Short Story Award. A former Cosmopolitan New Journalist of the Year, her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, the Evening Standard, and the New Scientist. She teaches creative writing at the Open University and the University of Portsmouth in England. Dark Aemilia is her U.S. debut.
For information and news please visit Sally O'Reilly's website and the Dark Aemilia Facebook Page.
Dark Aemilia Blog Tour ScheduleMonday, August 18
Review at The Bookworm
Tuesday, August 19
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Wednesday, August 20
Guest Post at Bibliophilia, Please
Thursday, August 21
Spotlight at Princess of Eboli
Monday, August 25
Review at The Mad Reviewer
Review & Giveaway at Curling Up By the Fire
Tuesday, August 26
Review & Giveaway at Poof Books
Thursday, August 28
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Sunday, August 31
Review at Carole's Ramblings
Monday, September 1
Review at Book Drunkard
Giveaway at Carole's Ramblings
Tuesday, September 2
Guest Post & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, September 3
Review & Giveaway at Bibliophilia, Please
Friday, September 5
Review at Awesome Book Assessment
Tuesday, September 9
Review at Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, September 10
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, September 11
Review at CelticLady's Reviews
Tuesday, September 16
Review & Giveaway at Bookish
Wednesday, September 17
Review & Giveaway at Casual Readers
Friday, September 19
Review & Giveaway at Book Nerd
Monday, September 22
Review at A Book Geek
Tuesday, September 23
Review & Giveaway at Beth's Book Reviews
Wednesday, September 24
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, September 26
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Sunday, September 28
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Monday, September 29
Review at 100 Pages a Day - Stephanie's Book Reviews
Review & Giveaway at Book Dilettante