Monday, April 25, 2016

REVIEW: The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt

The Dark Lady's Mask
by Mary Sharratt

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Page Count: 416
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Format: ARC Paperback

How got: ARC copy from GR giveaway

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

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.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I had to laugh at the irony that I finished this book on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the book ended with his death. Made me chuckle. This book was an intriguing look at the world of Elizabethan England in all its finery and squalor. The plight of women and artists in the time frame came to vivid life in Sharratt’s hands.

The author definitely didn’t hold back in her descriptions of Elizabethan England, urban, court life, and sedate country estate. Late 1500s life in Renaissance Venice also was vividly described. I loved all the little details she put in: how life was like in the Jewish ghetto in Venice, different aspects of the alchemical world, the glitter of life in court vs the semi-squalor of its lower class denizens, and the intricacies of patronage for artists and poets of the era.

Yet, what really drew me in was how the author explored the plight of women during the times. Given that the book was about the first published female English poet, the story of women in the times isn’t that far-fetched. But by exploring more than just Aemilia’s story, Sharratt brings to light the story of all the women of Elizabethan England. The dependency of one’s place in the world being determined by the men in your life, having a reputation that could be ruined by just a whisper and how life-threatening it was to have no man in your life are all explored in detail. I cringed and wept more than once for the various fates of these women.

Sharratt’s amazing talent at characterization is what really carries this story. Aemilia is amazingly human, strong against adversity and thinking on her feet to adapt to ever changing situations. Yet, she can also be carried away in the grand sweep of romance and poetry, losing sight of the real world for the glitter of fantasy. I loved how despite the many falls she experiences in life, she still has the guts to pick herself back up and forge a new path for herself. She’s strong and flawed, just like every woman on the planet.

Sharratt also carries over the great characterization skills to her minor characters as well. Shakespeare is both likeable in his poetic glory and hateful in his douche bag misogyny. Alfonse makes you cringe with how pitiful he was, and yet he loved Aemilia with all his heart through all the trials they experienced together. Those are just two great examples of her Sharratt’s secondary characters were as vibrant and life-like as her lead.

In a book I enjoyed more than I expected to, I found a great author to delve more into. She tells a great story, makes her characters come to life, and delves into the historical intricacies like few other authors can. This was a great introduction to Aemilia Bassano, Shakespeare’s possible Dark Lady, and to Mary Sharratt as an author. Recommended for lovers of historical fiction and stories of historical women everywhere!

Note: Book received for free from publisher via GR giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

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