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The Dark Lady

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  196 ratings  ·  33 reviews
A natural storyteller with a vision of his own, The Dark Lady, Akala's debut novel for teens will enthuse and entertain teenagers and young adults, showing that reading is a true super-power.

A pickpocket with an exceptional gift. A prisoner of extraordinary value. An orphan haunted by dreams of the mysterious dark lady.

Henry is an orphan, an outsider, a thief. He is also a
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 7th 2019 by Hodder Children's Books (first published 2019)
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Average rating 3.60  · 
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 ·  196 ratings  ·  33 reviews

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Fifteen-year-old Henry lived with Mary and her brother Matthew, Aunt Joan and Agnes. They were destitute on the streets of London at a time when beggars and thieves ruled the rough streets of the city. Henry was a master pickpocket and thief and while Mary’s beautiful singing voice provided the distraction, Henry and Matthew robbed the nearby watchers so they could eat for a few days. But when a robbery went wrong, Henry’s life immediately changed…

Henry had a magical gift; one he’d used to
An intriguing story about magic, race, and family in Elizabethan era London. Akala brings to life a world through the eyes of a poor black boy with exceptional gifts, gifts that would shape his future and mark his worth to London’s aristocracy, while also painting a target on his back.
I enjoyed reading this book, its well written and the mystery surrounding Henry’s gift and origins kept me engaged and eager to get to the end. I would have liked some of the side characters to be fleshed out a bi
Bianca's Book Vibes
May 20, 2021 rated it liked it
A story exploring the power of reading, magic, race, class and family in Elizabethan London.

Honestly I was disappointed in this after the raw rage of Akala's "Natives" autobiography. This novel was SLOW. Like pull out my eyes slow.

I've rounded up to 3 stars because I liked the premise and Elizabethan realness but omg literally nothing was happening and the few things that did were so over -explained it sucked my joy away. Not to my taste sadly but if you love historical fiction then it may be f
Herdis Marie
Jun 03, 2021 rated it did not like it
Goodness, that was terrible.


A brutally slow, meandering tale with little discernible plot, awkward prose, and thoroughly unlikable characters, "The Dark Lady" was an absolute chore to read.

The book follows a fifteen year old orphan named Henry living in Tudor England. His father an unknown and his mother having left him as a small child, he has grown up with a woman named Joan, her sister, and her sister's two children, Matthew and Mary. He spends his days in petty thievery, trying to scrounge t
Jess B
Feb 16, 2020 rated it liked it
(As a warning I want to make it clear I review this with my professional hat on not personal. Personally, I thought this was pretty good but I review this in a professional capacity and as such must keep that in mind):
Some would argue that using his mainstream appeal to young people as a tool to get them to read what is essentially educational historical fiction is very clever. Some would argue it will inspire today's youth to view Shakespearean language and culture with new eyes. However, I, so
Alyssia Cooke
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
This is a good debut novel that is written very well, with a strong lead character and a well drawn setting that is let down by weaker secondary characters, an unexplored magic system and a rather muddled narrative that doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s one of those books that you enjoy whilst your reading it, but have to wonder what the point was. I also didn’t really get the point of the poetry verses interspersed between chapters, I suspect that they are intended to build on Henry’s abilities ...more
Tracey S
May 22, 2020 rated it liked it
I received a free arc of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I wanted to read this book as I admire Akala as a musical artist and an activist, and was confident in his ability to be a good fiction author. I was not disappointed!
This book was nothing like I expected - we open with three young people, one black and two white, in Elizabethan London. The language they use is quasi-Elizabethan and it works to anchor the reader to the time period, while still be
May 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Although marketed as a book for children and young adults, this is really for any age and this 40+ person thoroughly enjoyed the tale of Henry as he navigates his way through racist Elizabethan London. Magic and realism combine to tell a tale of capture, escape, magic, privilege and oppression, and ultimately of friendship and love. I cannot wait to see where Henry and Mary end up and what they do, if indeed they do stay together. There is a glossary of historical slang terms at the back of the ...more
The Dark Lady was a surprising read for me, but not for the reasons that you're probably thinking.

It's not because the story itself took a different turn that I wasn't expecting - though that's definitely one of the reasons why. It's because even though I was very excited to dive into this book, I was only three chapters in when I was already considering DNFing it. It was slow-moving almost instantly, and I just found that I was not connecting with this story whatsoever, and I could just feel it
May 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
Want to see more...


Thank you Hachette for this book in exchange for an honest review

So I wanted to like this book. I really did. Pickpocket, prisoner, orphan that has haunted dreams, this has every concept to make an interesting story but I overall felt like the author was beating me with a Shakespeare novel and I wasn’t impressed. If I’m to have books shoved in my face, its book I choose. Don’t get me wrong, I like Shakespeare but I felt as though this was the main thing th
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thanks to NetGalley and The Publisher for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

3.5 stars rounded up.

I enjoyed reading this. A lovely little adventure with a historical fiction background. There's lots in here for young people to think about; identity, loyalty and consequences of ones actions. Back to the historical fiction element, I really like what Akala has done here. He's choose a time in history that Black people being in London are not often associated with. And he's also chosen to i
Sophisticated engaging historical mystery, with many gaps I suspect will be filled in future books. It doesn't feel like a standalone. ...more
Mar 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: ya
On the surface, this book seemed to offer everything I like: Shakespeare, pickpockets, references to Moll Cutpurse, and Elizabethan London. The title refers to the mysterious 'Dark Lady' referenced in Shakespeare sonnets and a few of his plays (I think Rosalind in Love's Labour's Lost, for example). However, the lady herself didn't play much of a role in this story, and I'm assuming a sequel will come.

The excess of Elizabeth jargon was a fun addition, though it petered out fairly quickly. Akala
It took me a little while to get to grips with the Elizabethan slang, which I felt was a rather fun and authentic touch once you settled into it. The only real issue I had was, unfortunately, with the magic - Henry has the ability to translate any language written on paper, a feat that - as far as the many European characters are concerned - is something wholly unique and unheard of before. His adoptive mother figure, Joan, also seems to have the ability to perform actual magic, including 'chi b ...more
gemsbooknook  Geramie Kate Barker

Henry is an orphan, an outsider, a thief. He is also a fifteen-year-old invested with magical powers ...'

I didn't love this book.

I went into this book after reading Natives by Akala, unfortunately I was a little disappointing by his debut novel for teens The Dark Lady.

While I feel that Akala is a natural storyteller this book just didn't work for me. I had issues with the
Feb 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC through Netgalley. I am a massive Akala fan and recently finished Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of the Empire, so I was geeked to see the email that popped up with mentions of this book. Honestly, initially hoped that we were going to see a merge of Akala literary rapping skills and a contemporary native. Understanding Akala, then it makes logical sense that he would choose to write a book set in the Elizabethan era and explore his love for Shakespeare. As a YA fantasy, ...more
B.S. Casey
Mar 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya

Release Date: 22nd April 2021

Genre: Young Adult | Fiction | Historical Fiction

Who is Henry? An orphan, a theif, an outcast. And a boy with extraordinary gifts.

Living in a quasi-elizabethan London, Henry lives with his cousins Mary and Matthew in the slums after being abandoned by his Mother who could be anywhere. Haunted by the dreams of a mysterious dark lady, Henry has to navigate his newfound gifts, his power over words and language while still trying to navigate the racial and societal prej
May 17, 2021 rated it liked it
The rating might be a little unfair, as I admit I've never really got on with the YA genre - likely because I never really read any when I was the target audience or younger. As a result, there are elements of this book that I felt were a little heavy-handed, or too obvious, and perhaps wouldn't have seemed so to the intended reader.

It also suffers from being the first in a series, so much of it reads as if it's just getting started, and then ends quite abruptly having not particularly resolved
Helen Precious
Apr 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
The Dark Lady is a Dickensesque escapade following the lives of three street pickpockets as they navigate the backstreets of London. Henry is many things; a thief; an orphan; literate and distinguished by his race. The three characters expose the reader to the 'charms' of London - from dog fighting to the Globe. Akala intersperses the vividly imagined streets with Shakespeare's sonnets as the cultural world surrounding Henry is revealed magically behind his eyes. None of the characters are as st ...more
Georgina Kamsika
Feb 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
I was interested to read The Dark Lady because of the author, Akala. I like Akala and was intrigued to see him move into YA, especially a book set in the Elizabethan era.

He does a fantastic job of bringing the reader into that world, with a faux-Shakespearian dialect that is much easier for younger readers to parse. The protagonist, Henry, is a biracial boy living in poverty after he was abandoned by his mother the eponymous Dark Lady. He has a secret that helps his survival, he has the magical
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*Thank you to NetGalley and Hachette Childrens for sending me a digital ARC for review*

What looks to be the start of an interesting historical series, encompassing magic, race, class and literature (I would dearly love Henry's ablility to translate anything), with language as rich as its themes, including not only poetry but Elizabethan street slang. There was a glossary for the slang but it was a little awkward to go back and forth to it in a digital format; shouldn't be a problem in the printe
Mar 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Mixed feelings on this one. The world building was interesting; but it felt incomplete. The characters felt a little one dimensional; I didn’t feel an emotional connection. The language also felt inconsistent. I didn’t feel ‘mum’ would be used, but maybe that’s just me!
Not a bad read overall; thanks to NetGalley for the ARC
May 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
The world is a bit too classic for my taste - maybe because I was expecting a fantasy novel. There's too much slang when it's not needed and not enough action - things begin to happen halfway through the book.

But I loved the writing (especially the poetry bits) and I wanted to know what would happen to the main character. (Not badly enough to make me finish the novel though.)
Angie Leonie
Jul 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
By chapter 4,I NEVER wanted to finish. I was too happy writing whole history trips based on little bits of british history, visualising my five senses in the Elizabethan period and smiling at the gorgeousness of the book layout ( separate black pages with headline ). I could wax lyrical on this book, but I want people to buy buy buy in abundance.
The Bookshop Umina
May 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this more but I didn't warm to the main character terribly well. I loved the special skill of instant translation and the historical characters that floated through, but unfortunately, I really didn't engage. ...more
May 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The Dark Lady is a beautiful introduction to historical fiction for those who may never have read the genre. While aimed at a younger audience, it;s a book that reader of all ages can read and appreciate the beauty of.
Donna Holland
May 30, 2021 rated it liked it
Akala’s first novel set in Elizabethan times .Captures the streets of London and the poverty .However the plot was rambling and I never felt it made any coherent sense . Am a big Akala fan so disappointed ,will still read him but think he’s better at non fiction.
Suzanne Bhargava
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Black Tudors, magic, sonnets, secret societies, Elizabethan street slang, and what it’s like to be overqualified for pickpocketing. 👍
May 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A simply brilliant YA novel that combines poetry, magic and adventure whilst perfectly capturing the filth, squalor and danger of Shakespearean London.
May 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
A bitter-sweet & quick read. Find out more on my IG: @bookswithbp
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Kingslee James McLean Daley, better known by the stage name Akala, is an English rapper, author, poet, and political activist.

Originally from Kentish Town, London he is the younger brother of rapper/vocalist Ms. Dynamite. In 2006, he was voted the Best Hip Hop Act at the MOBO Awards. He was awarded an honourary doctorate by the University of Brighton in 2018.

In May 2018, Akala published Natives:

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