Dark Aemilia by Sally O’Reilly

Posted September 9, 2014 in Blog Tour, Book Review / 0 Comments

Dark Aemilia by Sally O’Reilly

I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 16 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug use, alcohol use, language, and/or violence.
Dark Aemilia by Sally O’ReillyDark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady by Sally O'Reilly
Published by Picador on May 27th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: ARC from publisher
Buy on Amazon


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 beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.

A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will—or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself.

In rich, vivid detail, Sally O’Reilly breathes life into England’s first female poet, a mysterious woman nearly forgotten by history. Full of passion and devilish schemes, Dark Aemilia is a tale worthy of the Bard.

Main Points
Writing Style:
It was dark and descriptive. Very poetic. It was incredibly old-fashioned, and usually I have a hard time reading this, but this book in particular was lovely.
It felt very historically accurate and believable, except for the fantasy elements of course. But the whole bit about the plague and women’s rights and how people thought about witchcraft- that was very well done.
Aemilia’s own story was a mostly sad one. Even her romance with Will, while it lasted forever, didn’t work out as they had hoped. She had few friends and most people had formed wrong impressions of her. But she certainly had spirit and blasphemous views on women’s rights.
Her view of religion was a bit contradictory. She was very religious, but did not believe certain aspects that the church tried to make them believe, like the story with Adam and Eve and Lilith and how Eve ruined mankind. I would have been happier if she had been one way or the other, but it was not so.
Even the people she was friends with she sparred with. She wasn’t the most agreeable sort, but neither were they. Even her son had his issues. Even Will scoffed at her for the longest time when she wanted to write. How did she not feel lonely? I’m sure she did. They were all so quick to turn on her when they realized she was a witch. And she went and blabbed about it at the worst time, too. That was her own fault.
That leads me to one of the issues I have with continuity. One moment they want to string her up for witchcraft, and then she is saved. But later, everything appears to be forgotten, and there is no explanation. This is doubtful. I’m sure it wasn’t that easy.
But aside from the dark or negative aspects, it was a beautiful, romantic, and powerful story.
 The setting was one of the best parts. It was a richly painted picture, to be cliche. I could see everything clearly, as if I were living it.
Also note: this book is a long one. Most times I don’t even read books this long, much less extremely descriptive historical fantasies. But it held my attention and captivated me all the way through.
Good vs. Bad
  • plot
  • setting
  • characters
  • romance
Less than perfect:
  • romance
  • Will
  • ending
Bottom Line
 I loved this beautiful story. It was dark and descriptive and extremely accurate. The setting was vivid and the writing was poetic. The romance was very nicely done, but the ending wasn’t the most satisfying. The characters were all very interesting. Would I read more by this author? Yes. Would I recommend this to others? Yes.

About Sally O’Reilly

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 Scientist. She teaches creative writing at the Open University and the University of Portsmouth in England. Dark Aemilia is her U.S. debut.

Overall: four-stars


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