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
Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.
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.
“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
I initially chose to review this book because the blurb made me think of the enjoyable movie “Shakespeare in Love“. I am glad that I did read “The Dark Lady’s Mask” as it was a lovely and entertaining story with a fresh perspective on actual events with real people.
The realities of the time period are brought into clear focus in this story. It is quite obvious in the details that the author did massive amounts of research on the subject. I was truly surprised by the lengths that Aemilia was forced to go to in order to get her stories and plays into the light of day. The extreme inequality between men and women had a glaring spotlight shown upon it. I found it sad that so many women of that time were completely uneducated. Aemilia was uncommonly fortunate in her foster mother and later patronesses and their love of knowledge. They ensured that she could think for herself and hold her own in the world of men.
Ms. Sharratt has managed to craft a story with adventure, drama and romance while still sharing the truths of the tempestuous relationship between the Bard and his Muse. I especially enjoyed Aemilia’s journey to find her father’s family and learn of her heritage and his religion. The characters are full of depth and it was nice for Aemilia to finally feel that she belonged somewhere and to someone.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys great historical fiction. I do caution you however, you’ll need to put aside a chunk of time to get lost in the story.
If you’d like to win your own paperback copy of this great book, just leave a comment below. Giveaway is for US addresses only and will end Friday night at midnight, PST. Good luck!
MARY 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.
Blog Tour Schedule
Friday, April 22
Review & Giveaway at History Undressed
Monday, April 25
Review at Seize the Words: Books in Review
Wednesday, April 27
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, April 28
Review at Just One More Chapter
Friday, April 29
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Saturday, April 30
Review at Queen of All She Reads
Tuesday, May 3
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, May 4
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Thursday, May 5
Excerpt & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Friday, May 6
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, May 9
Review at A Dream within a Dream
Tuesday, May 10
Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Wednesday, May 11
Review at Puddletown Reviews
Thursday, May 12
Review & Giveaway at View from the Birdhouse
Monday, May 16
Review at A Book Geek
Tuesday, May 17
Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, May 18
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Thursday, May 19
Review & Giveaway at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf
Friday, May 20
Review at Broken Teepee
~~~~~ Disclaimer: All opinions expressed on this blog are 100% my own. I do not receive monetary compensation for my reviews but do utilize affiliate links. I may receive books in order to facilitate a review, but this does not guarantee a good review – only a completely honest one. Each review post denotes how I obtained the book.
I’m really excited to be able to share with you an interview with one of my favorite authors: Nicole Evelina. She is currently celebrating the release of the second installment in her Guinevere’s Tale series: Camelot’s Queen with a blog tour hosted by Amy of Historical Fiction Book Tours.
Welcome to One Book Shy of a Full Shelf Nicole. I’m thrilled to have a chance to chat with the lady behind the pen (keyboard).
1. Your book is now a movie, who would be your stars?
Jessica Brown Findlay as Guinevere, Christian Kane as King Arthur, Jamie Ray Newman as Morgan, Rachelle Lefevre as Isolde, Orlando Bloom as Aggrivane, and Emily Blunt as Viviane. I have a whole Pinterest board where I cast my characters: https://www.pinterest.com/nicoleevelina/guinevere-trilogy-characters/.
Fantastic choices! That board is amazing. I’m especially loving Christian Kane as Arthur. My mental picture from the book meshes nicely with his photo.
2. Do you have any particular writing quirks or habits?
I’m sure I have plenty. My characters talk to me (and each other) in my head – does that count? I know that’s pretty common among writers. I hate it when they start talking when I’m doing something where I can’t write down their dialogue, like I’m driving or in the shower. They also sometimes do what they want in the middle of a scene. I’ve learned not to fight them and just go with it. So, far, they’ve always been right!
Personally, I’m glad you listen to the voices. Their stories have been fantastic.
3. Besides Guinevere, who is your favorite character in the series?
Oh, that’s like asking me to name my favorite child. I love Isolde for her free spirit, Aggrivane for his romantic, poetic soul, Morgan for her deviousness, Father Marius and Malegant for their evil spirits, and I love Elaine’s vulnerability.
But if I had to pick one, I’d pick Isolde. She’s so much fun, the woman I wish I was. She does what she wants, when she wants and who she wants and doesn’t feel guilty about it in the least. She’s getting her own novel at some point in the future, so that will be fun to write.
Oh! That is great news. Isolde was one of my favorites of the girls and I was sad to see her go about her own life in the first book.
4. What books or authors have influenced your writing?
When I was in college, a friend gave me a copy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon as a gift. I read it and loved it (it changed my life in more ways than I can say), but I hated her portrayal of Guinevere as meek, Christian and agoraphobic. That led me to seek out other fictional books written about her and I came across Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which covers her life after the fall of Camelot. That got me thinking that you don’t hear too much about what happened to Guinevere outside of her time with Arthur.
Around that time, Guinevere came into my head and said previous portrayals have done her wrong and it was time for me to set the record straight. We made a deal that day that I would tell her whole life story, from before Arthur, through after his death. Here we are 17 years later, and the first two of three books are out.
I love that you mention The Mists of Avalon as changing your life in multiple ways – aside from spurring you on to tell Guinevere’s side of things. That is a book that touched many of us as well.
5. Do you ever encounter writer’s block? What do you do to get past it?
I do. Most of the time it means I’m either just burned out or have taken a wrong turn in the story. If it’s burnout, some time away from the book and a good night’s sleep (or two) will fix it. If it’s the plot, I need to think my way through it. Talking things out with my mom usually helps. And if all else fails, meditation has been known to give me a solution.
6. When can we expect the next book?
I am hoping to have it done by the end of this year or early 2017. I have a first draft, but it’s missing the middle and needs major work. Given how well people are reacting to these first two books, I want to make sure it lives up to, if not surpasses them. So if it ends up taking longer, please know it’s because I want to give you a quality product, not a rushed one.
I can be patient – I think! It will be a book well worth the wait I’m sure.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I must say that while I’m anxiously awaiting the third book, I am now quite excited about the prospect of Isolde having her story told as well. She is a great character!
If you’re just joining us today, you can read my reviews of these first two spectacular books: Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen. We also have a lovely and fascinating guest post from Nicole on the religious aspects in Daughter of Destiny. Did I mention that I’m a fan???