The Dark Lady's Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare's Muse by Mary Sharratt
Publication Date: April 19, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, eBook, Audio Book; 416 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher via HFVBT for an honest review
London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.
Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country - and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.
The Dark Lady's Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.
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Because I enjoy historical fiction and love Shakespeare, I was happy to read and review The Dark Lady's Mask. This isn't the first book I have read that envisions Aemilia Bassano as Shakespeare's 'dark lady', but I think this Aemilia may be my favorite. She is highly intelligent, very educated and an equal to any man's wit and courage and an equal in talent to her Will.
The novel is very well written and I was quite happily surprised at how quickly I was drawn in to not only the novel, but also into caring about Aemilia and her future. There is so much to pay attention to -- from the historical detail to the clever way the author describes the plays written in collaboration between Aemilia and Will Shakespeare.
I loved that Aemilia uses her own experience at dressing as a man to enjoy freedom on horseback and from the constraints of womanhood to inform her plays. There were so many adventures that she could never have had dressed as a woman.
I appreciated that the author gives so much attention to the situation of women of the period and that she looks at a few different strong women in addition to Aemilia. I very much enjoyed reading about the friendship between Aemilia and Margaret Clifford.
There is so much to like about The Dark Lady's Mask - it is fun and exciting - with love and betrayal; strength and persistence; friendship and personal growth. The historical detail is wonderful. The Dark Lady's Mask will appeal to any reader who enjoys historical fiction, especially historical fiction dealing with Shakespeare, obviously, and fiction about the Elizabethan period. I think that it will also appeal to readers who like strong, intelligent women and those who have a sense of humor about literature. I will certainly be suggesting it to my friends.
Advance Praise"An exquisite portrait of a Renaissance woman pursuing her artistic destiny in England and Italy, who may - or may not - be Shakespeare's Dark Lady."- MARGARET GEORGE, internationally bestselling author of Elizabeth I
"Perfectly chosen details and masterful characterization bring to life this swiftly moving, elegant story. As atmospheric and compelling as it is wise, The Dark Lady's Mask is a gem not to be missed."- LYNN CULLEN, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and Twain's End
"Mary Sharratt's enchanting new novel, The Dark Lady's Mask, is a richly imagined, intensely romantic and meticulously researched homage to lauded poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, an accomplished woman of letters who many believe to be Shakespeare's Eternal Muse. Sharratt unfolds a captivating tale, a compelling 'what if' scenario, of a secret union that fed the creative fires of England's greatest poet and playwright." - KATHLEEN KENT, bestselling author of The Heretic's Daughter
"Mary Sharratt is a magician. This novel transports the reader to Elizabethan England with a tale of the bard and his love that is nothing short of amazing. Absorbing, emotional, historically fascinating. A work of marvelous ingenuity!" - M.J. ROSE, New York Times bestselling author of The Witch of Painted Sorrows
"I enjoyed this exciting fantasy of Shakespeare's 'dark lady.' There was adventure, betrayal, resilience, and above all, the fun notion that Shakespeare might have had far more than a muse to help him create his wonderful plays." -KARLEEN KOEN, bestselling author of Dark Angels and Before Versailles
"Through the story of Aemilia Bassano, a talented musician and poet, Mary Sharratt deftly tackles issues of religious and gender inequality in a time of brutal conformity. The Dark Lady's Mask beautifully depicts the exhilaration and pitfalls of subterfuge, a gifted woman's precarious reliance on the desires of powerful men, and the toll paid by unrecognized artistic collaborators. Resonant and moving." -MITCHELL JAMES KAPLAN, author of By Fire, By Water
"In The Dark Lady's Mask, Mary Sharratt seduces us with a most tantalizing scenario --that the bold, cross-dressing poet and feminist writer Aemilia Bassano is Shakespeare's mysterious muse, the Dark Lady. Romantic, heart-breaking, and rich in vivid historical detail and teeming Elizabethan life, the novel forms an elegant tapestry of the complexities, joys, and sorrows of being both a female and an artist." -KAREN ESSEX, author of Leonardo's Swans and Dracula in Love
"Mary Sharratt has created an enchanting Elizabethan heroine, a musician, the orphaned daughter of a Jewish Italian refugee who must hide her heritage for her safety. Taken up by powerful men for her beauty, Amelia has wit and daring and poetry inside her that will make her a match for young Will Shakespeare himself and yet she must hide behind many masks to survive in a world where women have as much talent as men but little power." - STEPHANIE COWELL, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet
"Prepare to be swept away by Mary Sharratt's latest foray into historical fiction. Inspired by the true story of poet, Aemilia Bassano, THE DARK LADY'S MASK explores her relationship with William Shakespeare. Richly detailed and well researched, this lush tale brings Aemilia out of the shadows of history and let's her emerge as one of the founding mothers of literature. Drama, intrigue, and romance will have readers racing through this brilliant celebration of the muse." - PAMELA KLINGER-HORN, Sales & Outreach Coordinator, Excelsior Bay Books
About the AuthorMARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.
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