Book review: Dark Aemilia

Sally O’ReillyShakespeare, tick. Possible identity of the Dark Lady, tick. Supernatural, witches and demons, tick. Stinking, plague-ridden London, tick. The Globe, white-faced boy actors dressed in velvet, smoke, whistles and special effects, tick. This is Dark Aemilia by Sally O’Reilly.

Based on a foundation of history, O’Reilly tells the fictional story of real-life Aemilia Bassano and her love affair with William Shakespeare. There is no documentary evidence that this affair took place, but O’Reilly’s imagination conjures a rich story in which the setting of Elizabethan London is vibrant and believable. Wherever Aemilia goes – in an apothecary’s shop, in the audience at The Globe or standing at the edge of a plague pit – you can see, smell and hear her London.

Aemilia is something of a feminist, in that she struggles against men her whole life for the freedom to live her own life. Orphaned at 12 she becomes mistress to Lord Hunsdon [readers of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl will be interested to know that Hunsdon was the real-life Henry, son of Mary Boleyn] but during an affair with Shakespeare, Aemilia falls pregnant. Hunsdon arranges a marriage for her to her cousin Alfonso Lanyer, and so Aemilia’s destiny is determined at each stage by men. Father, protector, husband, lover and son.

She is a fascinating character, a woman of her time or before her time? As a poet and a lover, her influence on Shakespeare is at the core of this book. But then with her son dying of the plague, she turns to witchcraft and so the wilder element of the story takes off. I admit to skipping some of these sections. For me, the interesting plot was Aemilia, Shakespeare, the Globe and the writing of Macbeth and consequently for me the book could have been shorter.

Click here for more about Sally O’Reilly’s thoughts on how to survive being a writer.

If you like this, try these other novels of the supernatural:-
‘The Quick’ by Lauren Owen
‘The Taxidermist’s Daughter’ by Kate Mosse
‘The Faerie Tree’ by Jane Cable

‘Dark Aemilia’ by Sally O’Reilly [UK: Myriad] Buy here

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Shakespeare + witches: DARK AEMILIA by @sallyoreilly #bookreview by @SandraDanby

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