A TALE OF SORCERY AND PASSION IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY LONDON—WHERE WITCHES HAUNT WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND HIS DARK LADY, THE PLAYWRIGHT'S MUSE AND ONE TRUE LOVE
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.
O'Reilly's U.S. debut is a lush what-if about the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets that mesmerizes with its descriptions of the Bard's London from 1592 to 1616, the year of his death. The novel posits that celebrated real-life poet Aemilia Lanyer was Shakespeare's inspiration for that mysterious figure. O'Reilly chronicles a secret affair between Aemilia the mistress of a rich, elderly courtier to Queen Elizabeth I, and, later, wife of a court musician and the up-and-coming playwright, as they fall in and out of love, eventually reconnecting when Shakespeare stages Macbeth and a deadly curse plays out. In this telling, it's Aemilia who contributes some of the play's most famous lines. She is presented as a prototypical feminist, challenging convention as she tries to save the son that she had with Shakespeare. 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.