Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours/Netgalley
Read: March 1, 2016

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.

════════════════════════════ ❧  ════════════════════════════

William Shakespeare
I wish I could say Mary Sharratt’s The Dark Lady's Mask was the first fictional adaptation of Aemilia Bassano Lanier’s life that I’d encountered, but that honor goes to Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady by Sally O'Reilly. My experience with the latter wasn’t ideal as I’ve issues with gratuitous vulgarity, but the source material left a certain impression and inspired a natural curiosity regarding the woman who inspired it which is what led me to Sharratt’s latest release.

First and foremost, I have to admit that I found Sharratt’s adaptation of the rumors and theories surrounding Aemilia beautifully developed. In context, the ideas made perfect sense, but in looking at more abstract notions, I was tickled by the idea of a writer writing about the power of literature and its impact on their audience.

Another thing I liked about this book was the emphasis Sharratt placed on Aemilia as an individual. All things considered, it would have been very easy for our heroine to be eclipsed by her lover and their supposed relationship, but Sharratt’s emphatic dedication to portraying Aemilia’s own merit - her education and individuality - struck a real chord with me.

Following that train of thought, I reveled in the thematic ideas at the heart of the novel. There are a lot of lighthearted moments and good humored narration throughout the text, but Aemilia's resilience fascinated me. Her trials and heartbreak where one thing, but I felt her journey to overcome those challenges inspiring.

Lyrically poetic in its own right, I’d found The Dark Lady's Mask genuine and authentic. Highly Recommended.

════════════════════════════ ❧  ════════════════════════════
She looked at the astrologer wonderingly and struggled not to laugh. Was there truly a soul left in London who didn’t know her history?
════════════════════════════ ❧  ════════════════════════════

No comments: