I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
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.
This is a serviceable little historical fantasy. If you are into all things Shakespeare or Aemilia Lanier, this book will be better for you than for others with no interest in either writer. The author takes quite a lot of historical points and then, like one of those children’s connect-the-dots pictures, creates an imaginative narrative that paints a picture that we may not have expected.
The writing is solid, the connections are original, plenty of famous names appear in the pages, but I didn’t find it to be un-put-down-able, if you know what I mean. I appreciated the girl power messages throughout, as Amelia struggles to become mistress of her own life and forges important friendships that help her (and her friends) in this regard. And it’s true that many a talented woman has had to use the men in her life to get her work out into the world. Aemilia “just happens” to run into or be related to an extraordinary number of co-operative men in this regard. Will Shakespeare turns from charmer to jerk (an entirely possible scenario, but one that I really didn’t care for).
Two things annoyed me—occasionally, a character would start a sentence with “marry” as a signal I guess of the time period. However, the rest of the time, they spoke like 20th or 21st century people. Easier to read, yes, but then let’s dispense with the odd “marry” and stay in one vocabulary or the other. Plus, there is one scene where a horse is described as “pulling a face” when mounted by a corpulent rider. Horses can roll their eyes, snort, grunt, sigh, many reactions—but I don’t think that “pulling a face” is one of them. The author is a horsewoman and should know better (or her editor should).
A good book and I’d be open to reading more of this author once I’ve made a bigger dent in my TBR list.