The Dark Lady's Mask

Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780544300767. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780544289741. F
Aemelia Lanier was a woman ahead of her time. Uncommonly educated and artistically talented, she began her adult life as a courtesan in the court of Elizabeth I, only to wind up cast-off and trapped in a loveless marriage. A chance encounter with William Shakespeare and the descent of the plague on London offer Aemelia the opportunity to escape her life and start anew. In the idyll of the Italian countryside, she and Will blossom—as poets and lovers. However, stolen pleasures are soon thwarted; Shakespeare and his muse return to England separately, where his star rises as her life stagnates. With fire in her soul, Aemelia bides her time until the day she can use her pen to advocate openly for herself and the rights of women everywhere.
VERDICT In her latest novel (after Illuminations), Sharratt delivers an immersive narrative of doomed romance. Certain plot and character choices may annoy Shakespeare purists though. Readers of Philippa Gregory and the like are sure to enjoy. [For another novel about Shakespeare's famous "Dark Lady," see Sally O'Reilly's Dark Aemilia.—Ed.]
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