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Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady

3.23  ·  Rating details ·  638 ratings  ·  184 reviews

The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth's royal court. The Queen's favorite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her b
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published May 27th 2014 by Picador (first published 2014)
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Average rating 3.23  · 
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 ·  638 ratings  ·  184 reviews

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Mar 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
Aemilia Bassono, enjoyed the advantages of being mistress to Lord Hunsdon for years, he was an excellent protector and provider. During their relationship she had an affair with William Shakespeare. Later she marries her cousin Alfonso Lanyer, a poor life partner, and raises her son far from the glitter and prosperity of court.

I’m trying to figure out why this novel didn’t work for me. I love fiction set during the Elizabethan period especially if it includes the plague, which this novel does.
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Sally O'Reilly's Dark Aemilia is unlike any Shakespeare inspired piece I've ever encountered. Offering a unique twist on the Bard's Dark Lady, I found the tale bold and imaginative. It is rough in several places and ultimately fell into the 'not for me' category, but that does not mean it was entirely without merit.

Though they share remarkably few scenes, the tortured relationship O'Reilly crafted between Will and Aemilia h
Mar 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Aemilia Bassano was born in 1569, the illegitimate child of a musician in the court of Queen Elizabeth. She was raised - and educated – in the household of the Countess of Kent. When she grew up she became part of the Queen’s household, and the mistress of Henry Carey, the Lord Chamberlain. Aemila kept those positions for many years, but she lost them when she fell pregnant; she was cast off and married off – to the lowliest of court musicians. He – Alfonso Lanyer- was quick to spend the dowry t ...more
Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
Little does she know it, but author Sally O'Reilly wrote this book just for me. Set in London during the late 1500s and the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Dark Aemilia has it all: Shakespeare, plague, sorcery, witchcraft, witty dialogue, great writing and hot sex scenes. I mean come on! Sally O'Reilly, I love you!

And the cover, oh the cover, simply stunning.

Based on a real person, Aemilia is an inspirational woman born before her time, thought to be Shakespeare's dark muse, struggling with the role
J. Else
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
Overview – “Dark Aemilia” is a story about a strong and passionate woman, is extremely well researched, and proposes that perhaps Aemilia Bassano was the woman behind Shakespeare’s musings. However, I found few good character moments in the storyline and felt that more detail should have been given to the process of Aemilia’s writing craft. I was so excited to read this story but was sadly let down.

Part 1: Passion – There is no depth or emotion. The characters continually jump into bed together
This could have been a really fascinating subject for a historical fiction novel in the right hands, but unfortunately the author chose to go the sensationalist route.

This novel is about an actual woman, Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, who was the mistress of Lord Hunsdon at Queen Elizabeth I’s court. She was married off when she became pregnant (which was usually what happened with royal or aristocratic mistresses then); and later became the first professional woman poet in England. This much is known
Roman Clodia
May 24, 2016 rated it did not like it
Does a disservice to the real Aemilia Lanyer

I have two problems with this book: the first is that it does a disservice to the real Aemilia Lanyer, more of which later; the second is that the love story lacks emotional authenticity: people only act and talk like this in Mills & Boon-type romantic fiction.

To take the latter point first, I really hate lazy books which start with the heroine hating the hero while not being able to stop thinking about him and asking herself dumb questions about why h
The Lit Bitch
May 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was expecting something entirely different with this novel than what I actually read. I thought this was going to be a novel about love and magic in Queen Elizabeth’s court.

Yes it was that….sort of, but it seemed more like an erotic historic novel. Aemilia could have been interesting if she wasn’t so crass. I normally don’t shy away from graphic erotica or colorful language when it adds something to the story or character, but in this novel I just didn’t think it was necessary and didn’t reall
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Jul 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. Aemilia Bassano was a published poet, a major feat for a woman of her time (this story takes place during the height of the Elizabethan era). She also may have been one of the muses for the one and only William Shakespeare. The operative phrase here is "may have been." In this book, O'Reilly explores who Aemilia was and makes a conjecture as to what her relationship may be have been with Shakespeare. It is a fascinating look, which will interest my fellow historical fiction readers.

May 22, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A well researched Shakespearean era tale that has as much tragedy, revenge, love and lust as can be found in any play by the Bard himself. Wonderful descriptive passages made the scenes come alive to the point that you could almost smell the festering bile that filled the streets. Sadly, for me, this was a story that had so much potential but felt too choppy and underdeveloped in many places. Story arcs would be initiated and then abandoned for chapters at a time only to be taken up again briefl ...more
Mar 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Dark Aemilia is a fictional account of the life of Aemilia Lanyer, one of several women whose names have been suggested as possible candidates for the 'Dark Lady' of Shakespeare's sonnets. She was also one of the first women in England to have a book of poetry published.

Born Aemilia Bassano, the illegitimate daughter of a Venetian musician at the court of Elizabeth I, Aemilia becomes the mistress of the much older nobleman Lord Hunsdon. When she discovers that she is pregnant, she is forced to l
It’s very rare that I come across a book in which there was nothing about it that I can speak kindly of and prevent it from getting a one star rating. I wish there was something positive that I can say about Dark Aemilia but when the main emotion you feel when you finished reading the book is relief, it pretty much sums up what you thought about the book.

From the beginning, the book failed to capture and retain my attention. Which is disappointing considering it was a story involving real histo
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
This bawdy, dramatic, and atmospheric historical novel brings to life Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, a nearly forgotten Elizabethan poet -- the first woman in England to be published -- who, in O'Reilly's hands, becomes a lover and muse to William Shakespeare -- the inspiration of his Dark Lady sonnets.

Set between 1592 and 1616 in London, the novel is narrated by Aemilia.  The young mistress of an older courtier, Aemilia is renown at court for her wit and beauty, and she catches the attentions of playw
Mar 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
A boldly imaginative romp through Shakespearian past that’s richly evocative

An exquisitely sumptuous story that’s as acutely imagined as Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth. Seeped in authenticity and delicious detail, this spellbinding novel of Witchcraft and poetry takes you on an unforgettable journey. The intensely passionate and compelling saga of Aemilia Lanyer {the ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare’s Sonnets} is a romantic tragedy, underpinned by extensive historical research and depth.
This stor
Another book that did not work for me. Dark Aemilia is a fictional portrait of Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, woman poet and it speculates that she was Shakespeare's dark lady. Among other things, it also supposes that she birthed his child, saved it from the plague by calling upon a demon and that she wrote Macbeth and later cursed it with the same demon.

I don't know. It had the makings of a good book - I mean, Shakespeare, the lady poet and the plague. Even the demon would have been good, had I not
May 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Historians have long speculated about Aemelia Bassano. Courtier, Marrano-Jew, half breed, bastard and mistress to Queen Elizabeth's cousin Henry Carey, she may or may not be the 'Dark Lady' of Shakespeare's sonnets. This book takes the position that not only was Aemila the Dark Lady, but she had many dealings with Will (some good, some very diabolical...) and was a major influence in his life and work.

Author Sally O'Reilly says: "I wanted to write about Shakespeare's London as if I was there. I
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
In language that has the feel of Elizabethan times, O'Reilly portrays Aemilia as a whore that has a short time period with Shakespeare and the effects this has on her life. Effects? She has his child Henry to raise, she pines for him and hates what he lets happen to her. Aemilia is not only a whore but aspires to be a poet and writer. Her life is miserable because during the time of the book, 1592-1616, women don't count. She is a feminist before they were acknowledged. She thinks and knows that ...more
Amy Hockenberry
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read! If you love Shakespeare then you will want to read this book. The beginning grabs your attention right away and slows a little in the middle, but then it picks back up with such force that it is hard to put down.

The Irregular Reader
Dark Aemilia is rich in historical detail, drawing liberally from the history of the people involved and London itself. The blending of science and magic is nicely done, and fits in well with the nascent scientific process of the era. Ultimately, however, I found the book was unable to keep my attention. Aemilia is an intelligent, educated woman, and historically regarded as Shakespeare's muse. Yet here she is portrayed as some sort of sex-starved, unable to control herself, intellect out the wi ...more
Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Title - Dark Aemilia

Author - Sally O'Reilly

Summary -

It is England, 1592, and there is turmoil in the land. The church divided. Politics, lies and treachery fills the court of the Queen Elizabeth; so that even her favorite, the beautiful Aemilia Bassano, mistress and whore to the aged Lord Hunsdon finds herself in peril. Into this time and into the life of Aemilia, comes the young and gifted playwright, William Shakespeare.

But there is far more to Aemilia than there is to most of the women of th
Bonnie Ferrante
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love books about the Tudor era, especially those involving Shakespeare. This one is definitely one of my favorites. O'Reilly writes from Amelia's point of view. The tone is reminiscent of Juliet but with a mature feminist perspective.

Amelia is nobody's fool. She knows the roles women are allowed to play in her society and they chafe like a hangman's noose. She is a poet at a time when women's writing was denigrated. She has no control over her finances. She is smarter than most of the men she
Blodeuedd Finland
The book takes place during different important years during her life.

Aemilia is first the mistress of a powerful man and she had everything. She is happy with her lot in life. But the title already says is and the passion she and Shakespeare share drives them mad for each other. That is the first part of her life. Meeting Shakespeare, and losing it all.

The second part takes place when she is married to a gambler and her old life is long gone. She has a son. She still wants to write. But this wa
Jun 14, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: historical, romance, uk
Thanks to Edelweiss and Picador for early access to this title.

Meh. Well, one good thing about the book is the cover is kind of cool. This is not a well-written book. I got really tired of the main character telling us how well-educated and intelligent she was, only to have her actions show her to be a complete idiot. I started to dislike her shortly after starting the book, and she never redeemed herself in my eyes. The love affair at the beginning was completely contrived, and very unconvincin
I received this book through Goodreads First Reads.

Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady is a beautifully written historical fiction novel. I have always loved things related to Shakespeare so Dark Aemilia captured me from the start. Sally O'Reilly brought to life a dark & magical story of Aemilia Bassano & William Shakespeare. This story has romance, passion, dark magic, & a little poetry (of course).

**Mature content throughout the story.

I really enjoyed reading Dark Aemilia from b
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady By Sally O'Reilly

Young Aemilia Bassano, once the Mistress of Lord Hunsdon, and then purported "Muse" and true love of William Shakespeare. She was part of Queen Elizabeth's court, lover of poetry and a feminist way before her time. She struggles to make a name for herself, raise her son, and live life to its fullest.

An intriguing plot, with a tough, determined protagonist. Aemilia is head-strong and rebellious, a woman who knows what she wants and
 Linda (Miss Greedybooks)
I won this book from GoodReads.

I liked it very much. I wish I liked Aemilia more though. I found myself feeling too often that her stubborn arrogance in her life choices made her circumstances more difficult than they already would be, for a woman in the 1600's.

How different her life might have been, if she had chosen to be kind, a little less obstinate. Maybe she was cursed, maybe she really wanted the outcomes of her choices.

It was well written, and nicely told.

I am glad that I read it.
Nov 22, 2015 rated it did not like it
I just could not finished this book.
I love historical novels especially because they teach me so many things I don't know. Being French, i must admit I do not know much about Shakespeare's life and had never heard of Aemilia.
Unfortunately, this book did not meet my expectations : it is full of sex scenes, I did not care about and the language quite disturbed me.
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Descriptions of London in 1660 so vivid that I spend the past few days worried about getting the plague or stepping in the filth of the streets. The smells even seemed real. Yet I read on because I like the feminist slant of the main character.
Sepideh Sahebsara
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
aha coooool
Apr 19, 2020 rated it did not like it

I am an individual that completes a novel even if it seems to be going downhill. But things changed when I read a book prior to reading Dark Aemilia and...well unfortunately Dark Aemilia came a close second. I only read a bit more than half of this novel and could bare it no longer.

As it comes to historical figures, I was quite familiar with Shakespeare but not Aemilia. However, while going through this book I was annoyed by the heroine that I had to research the actual figure to see if she
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author by this name in the Goodreads data base.

Sally O'Reilly has received numerous citations for her fiction, which has been shortlisted for the Ian St James Short Story Prize and the Cosmopolitan Short Story Award. A former Cosmopolitan New Journalist of the Year, her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, the Evening Standard, and the New Sci

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