Review: Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady by Sally O’Reilly

The story of Aemilia Bassono and William Shakespeare is wrought with passion, love, poetry, and a little magic.

While the story is about both William and Aemilia, the main protagonist of the novel is Aemilia herself.

She is an illegitimate child raised in the court of Queen Elizabeth.

She was taken in by the Countess of Kent who made sure she was educated and prepared to eventually become part of the Queen’s household.

While at court she becomes the mistress to Henry Carey but when he tires of he she is married off to Alfonso Lanyer–a lowly court musician. But not before she meets William and begins an affair with him as well.

After she married Alfonso, she leaves court behind, along with William. Destitute and fearing the plague and the death of her son,  she contacts William again. She is willing to do whatever it takes to save him….even is that involves the supernatural.

William and Aemilia both have a love of writing, and soon Aemilia becomes the first published female poet.

Together William and Aemilia are both passionate and in love, but their relationship is doomed from the start.

I was expecting something entirely different with this novel than what I actually read. I thought this was going to be a novel about love and magic in Queen Elizabeth’s court.

Yes it was that….sort of, but it seemed more like an erotic historic novel. Aemilia could have been interesting if she wasn’t so crass. I normally don’t shy away from graphic erotica or colorful language when it adds something to the story or character, but in this novel I just didn’t think it was necessary and didn’t really add anything. It seemed more like it was being used for shock value instead.

The word ‘cunt’ was overused for me. I don’t personally like that word but if it work in the story or period or being used to make a point, then so be it but in this novel it just didn’t work. There was a lot of other profanity as well that just didn’t add anything to the story. The phrase ‘dugs’ was also way over used throughout the entire novel.

I liked that Aemilia was a very spirited character and didn’t want to be tamed or tempered by society, but at the same time she was so stubborn and unforgiving that it made it hard for me to like her or see any of her other redeeming qualities. She was very clever and sassy which I liked but I was so put off by her head strong attitude that I struggled to identify with her.

For someone who was so self sufficient and independent I often felt that she made poor choices. For example: this guy seems to want to rape me, but I’m going to stay and have a glass of wine and read him my poems instead. I found myself scratching my head when she made those kinds of choices. 

I was excited about the magical elements in the novel. The dark arts and magic was intriguing and a fun element to have in the story but would have liked to have seen more of them in the story.

The love story between William and Aemilia was tolerable. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I was wanting to see more passion and love not just erotic sexual encounters.

I didn’t necessarily buy that they were so ‘in love’, at least not until William died. In that scene I saw how much they loved each other but up until that point it just seemed all physical.

About the only thing that I did enjoy about this novel was the depiction of Elizabethan life. Her descriptions of London and it’s life/culture, were full of gritty realism. Life in London was especially grim and she did a wonderful job recreating that period.

I thought many of her descriptions were historically accurate and I loved the use of period language in many parts of the story. That was the only thing that saved this novel for me.

This novel seems like the kind of book either readers liked it or they didn’t. I was expecting something entirely different, especially from the description of the novel.

This book needs to be read with an open mind, for the right person it was probably a wonderful read, for me it fell short in too many areas unfortunately. I’ve read plenty of other reviews where people loved this book so if you have this on your TBR list, you might want to give it a go with an open mind and you might like it.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady by Sally O’Reilly

  • Paperback, 448 pages
  • Expected publication: May 27th 2014 by Picador (first published March 27th 2014)
  • ISBN 1250048133 (ISBN13: 9781250048134)
  • Review copy provided by: Author/Publisher in exchange for an honest review

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 2 out of 5

Genre:  Historic fiction, Tudor era, fantasy, romance, erotica

Memorable lines/quotes: NA

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