The Dark Lady’s Mask by Mary Sharratt

The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt

An admitted fan of Shakespeare and his works, I had not heard of Aemilia Bassano Lanier in any detail, but the opportunity was too intriguing to miss. Written by Mary Sharratt, a new to me author, and narrated by Jilly Bond, please read on for my review of

The Dark Lady’s Mask

A fortuitous upbringing for a young woman, daughter of a court musician, was innovative and interesting in and of itself, as women, particularly those of less than noble birth, were commodities. But the young Aemilia was fortunate enough to be blessed with brains and determination, allowing her to make the most of her education and entrée into society her guardians provided. While still being constrained by the laws and customs of the time, she was obligated to, or reliant upon the men in her life, even as she was the first female paid poet in England.

Sharratt takes us from the obvious loving and caring relationship with her father, her warm and nurturing time with the noblewomen who would foster her after her father’s death, seeing to her education and deportment. Here is where Aemilia’s life takes flight, reveling in all she could learn, manipulating words, developing her own sense of herself and her place. Never deterred (although often sorely tested) by low points, she even started a school for girls to keep herself from abject poverty. But a chance meeting with a “name on the rise” in the form of William Shakespeare, find these two in a collaboration as two poets at heart writing on the human condition, finding and poking at the issues of the day, enlightening and educating with the power of literature.

Conversations with Shakespeare, as well as rather intriguing secondary characters (the Weir Sisters: 3 women herbalists) as well as many others pepper the text and add familiarity to a story that could have easily been focused only on the purported relationship. Aemilia’s resilience and struggles, not to mention the closely guarded secrets she keeps of her past. The story moves from tragedy to light-hearted moments clearly, with depth that intrigues rather than overwhelms. My only issue with the story as a whole is the modern feel to conversations, I felt the need to bring those conversations closer to the era, not just when sharing bits of poems and plays as the collaboration (and its dissolution) came to pass. While seeming to be a minor one, I couldn’t help but notice that discrepancy, and that made for a large disconnect for me.

Narration for this story is provided by Jilly Bond, and she presented the story cleanly and clearly, with pauses, hesitations and tone changes that suited both the text and the emotional impact a moment would convey. Precise enunciation, clear diction and no over-reach for voices or moments, her narration moved the story forward that matched the pace of the text and provided a wonderful listen.


Stars:  Overall: 4  Narration: 5  Story: 4

The Dark Lady’s Mask by Mary Sharratt

Title: The Dark Lady's Mask
Author: Jilly Bond, Mary Sharratt
Genre: British, Elizabethan, European History, Historical Fiction, Renaissance Era, Romantic Elements
Published by: Dreamscape Media LLC, Houghton Miffllin/Harcourt
ISBN: 1520004419
Published on: 19 April, 2016
Source: AudioBook Jukebox
Pages: 416
Audio Length: 15 Hours: 10 minutes
Rated: four-stars
Heat: One FlameHalf a Flame

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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.

The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.

A copy of this title was provided via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.


About Mary Sharratt

Mary Sharratt is an American writer who lives with her Belgian husband in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed 2010 novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers.

Previously she lived for twelve years in Germany. This, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write her most recent novel, ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN, which explores the dramatic life of the 12th century Benedictine abbess, composer, polymath, and powerfrau.

Winner of the 2005 WILLA Literary Award and a Minnesota Book Award Finalist, Mary has also written the acclaimed novels SUMMIT AVENUE (Coffee House 2000), THE REAL MINERVA (Houghton Mifflin 2004), THE VANISHING POINT (Houghton Mifflin 2006), and co-edited the subversive fiction anthology BITCH LIT (Crocus Books 2006), which celebrates female anti-heroes--strong women who break all the rules. Her short fiction has been published in TWIN CITIES NOIR (Akashic Books 2006).

Mary writes regular articles for Historical Novels Review and Solander on the theme of writing women back into history. When she isn't writing, she's usually riding her spirited Welsh mare through the Lancashire countryside.


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