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.
Out of 5 JEWELS, I give it:
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About the Author
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.
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