Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: "Dark Aemilia" by Sally O'Reilly

Hello folks!

I know it's been awhile since I have brought you a review, so apologies are in order. I've been either sick and/or recuperating from surgery for most of this month, so I've only been doing minimal posting.

Today I bring you a brief review of Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly. I should preface this by saying that I stopped reading about 3/4 of the way through. It's not because it wasn't a good book. But I was thoroughly disturbed by a chaotic section of the novel involving black magic. The description of the novel mentioned that the main character would end up dabbling in the dark arts, and so I expected this to some extent. I did not expect how uneasy it would make me. So if you are a sensitive reader you may want to skip this one.

If you're not, then read on! The first 3/4 of this novel were very interesting and amusing. O'Reilly does a superb job of capturing the waning years of Elizabethan England and rise of William Shakespeare. Readers will think they have entered a Shakespearean play complete with all the saucy language and hilarious retorts of the period. The author does not shy away from discussing the realities of life from the period. With glossy romances and big screen movies depicting the age as one of immense beauty, it's easy to forget the conditions that most people, even the wealthy ones, lived in.

The novel essentially opens with Aemilia Bassano the bastard orphan of a former court musician and his paramour (later wife) is making her way through Queen Elizabeth's court. She has been a fixture there since she was a child but after her parents' deaths, she becomes the mistress of a wealthy and powerful lord. He treats her well and she is satisfied to some extent. It is a run-in with William Shakespeare that sets her down a much different path. After turning up pregnant by the emerging poet and playwright, Aemilia must marry a silly man in order to keep her child. Her son becomes her whole world, definitely to his detriment as he is a horrid little thing, and when his life is imperiled by the plague, she turns to black magic to save him. This is where I stopped, but the main gist was that Aemilia struck a deal with the devil to save her son. In recompense she is to write a play that eventually become famous for its hard hearted "heroine" and the presence of witches: MacBeth. Some presence apparently consumes her as prior to this, she had tried to write and publish poems and pamphlets for years without success. I imagine that the remainder of the novel is about how the play comes to be credited to Shakespeare and whether or not Aemilia becomes permanently reconciled to him (they quarreled over her pregnancy).

At the end of the day, if you're not at all freaked out by black magic, I recommend you read this novel. Lovers of the period will definitely enjoy this romp through Old England.

Dark Aemilia will be available May 27, 2014 from Picador.

Disclaimer: I received this novel through Netgalley (and the publisher) in exchange for a fair review.

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